Since 1990, the Rock the Vote campaign has led well-intentioned initiatives to bring young people to the polls, the #TurnOutForWhat video being its most recent effort. Rock the Vote has championed this cause for good reason — youth are underrepresented at the ballot box.
According to a 2014 census report, only 45 percent of citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 are registered to vote, the lowest of any demographic. While overall turnout is habitually meager in midterm elections, young Americans are especially likely to stay home. According to an April 2014 poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, only 23 percent of American youth have committed to vote in today’s election, which can be attributed to youth cynicism toward elected officials, self-identification as independents and a tendency to be swayed by issue-oriented appeals rather than partisanship. Despite this skepticism, universities — including and especially NYU — are in a unique position to encourage civic participation among college-age voters by assuming a larger role in pre-election day efforts.
NYU has not made a significant push to encourage its students to be involved in regional and national politics. Beyond an October email and instructions for voter registration on the university website, NYU has not actively promoted voting this season. Considering the highly politicized nature of our campus, this oversight is a wasted opportunity to attract a vibrant population. In comparison, Columbia University organized a “Voting Week” in early October that brought well-known politicians to the campus, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, and helped students work through the voter registration process.
NYU’s two major political groups, the College Democrats and the College Republicans, each canvassed for local candidates, but neither targeted their efforts at students. They instead used phone banks and door-to-door campaigning to reach potential voters in certain districts, many of which were not in areas where students tend to reside. But it should not be the sole responsibility of student-led political organizations to raise awareness about voting. Because NYU has the capability to influence so many students, it too must take ownership.
Civic participation is a worthy endeavor that cannot be overemphasized. Despite the political polarization that currently plagues government efficiency, only a miniscule percentage of youth expressed interest in voting. NYU students manage academics, extracurriculars and jobs — a universitywide voting initiative could make the registration process easier. No matter how many views its videos attract or mentions #TurnOutForWhat draws, Rock the Vote may not be as effective as a localized recruiting attempt. A university-led initiative would be the most successful way for students to learn about voting and registration. Galvanizing this demographic could improve low voter turnout, particularly in the midterm elections.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 4 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected].