With several high-profile debates and 24/7 media coverage of the candidates, the 2016 presidential election season has truly begun. A whole year before the vote, some are already griping about the political process. Some Americans, especially young people, elect not to vote because they believe that their vote does not matter in the grand scheme of the American political system. This is both wrong and utterly ruinous to a functioning democracy.
In the 2014 election cycle, voters aged 18 to 34 had the lowest percentage of voter turnout of all age groups. The disproportionate amount of older people voting leads to policies and election results that skew toward Conservative values. Consistent voters tend to be more conservative and favor policies that benefit the well-off and the elderly. Being the most liberal age demographic, millennials are perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy by refusing to vote: young people feel that their vote does not matter because they don’t see policies that reflect their interests, so they don’t vote, which in turn allows more policies that don’t reflect their interests. From 1972 onwards, youth voter turnout has been in steady decline. In the 2014 midterm elections, only 21.5 percent of eligible Americans under 30 cast their votes, something that was posited as a reason for Democrats losing out.
College-aged voters in particular have a great deal at stake in this election. A sharply rising college tuition rate has made the graduating class of 2015 the most indebted in history, and it’s getting harder to pay those debts, considering most minimum wage workers are below the age of 25 and the federal minimum wage is struggling to keep up with inflation. In foreign policy, politicians are calling for young Americans to enlist and fight faraway foes. These decisions are currently being made without the input of young people, despite the fact that they are the ones being disproportionately affected. Young voters cannot afford — literally or figuratively — to be apathetic.
Political cynicism is one of the major drivers of low youth turnout. Now more than ever, young people are routinely exposed to the gaffes and shortcomings of our prospective leaders, each clamoring over the next to belt out the most provocative soundbite. It’s a disheartening system, one in which many young people feel they have no recourse to counter such chaos. But the only way for there to be a sea change in politics, for the important issues to finally come to the surface, is for young people to take to the polls and to demonstrate their stake in this nation’s future. There are important issues hiding behind the horserace politics, and only the energy of youth can help bring them to light.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]