Compared to other democratic nations, the U.S. has dismal voter participation, especially among college students like those at the University of Georgia. The chart below is constructed from Census data pertaining to the November 2018 election and shows a total citizen registration rate of only 67%.
However, only 49% of younger voters, who have different priorities than older voters, were even registered. Even worse, less than a third of US citizens ages 18-24 (32%) actually voted.
|# of Citizens||# Registered||% Registered/Voted|
Total 18 years and over
|18 to 24 years|
25 to 44 years
45 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years and over
With voter participation among young people so low, politicians will not listen to what young people want. To change this, progressives must increase turnout among younger voters.
Our nation is controlled by whoever is voted into office. If you don’t vote, the people in power care very little about your priorities.
We have 26,950,000 American citizens ages 18-24 and 29,534,000 ages 65-74. The younger group had a voting rate of 32.4%, as shown above. The 65-74 seniors’ rate was 68.1%, more than double that of younger voters. If you were running for office, which group of constituents would you be more interested in?
What are the real-world impacts of this situation? They are numerous and profound.
Younger voters are much more progressive than older voters, per Pew Research Center. Pew looked at attitudes towards racism, immigration, healthcare, economic inequality, foreign affairs, trade, gun control, climate change, support for President Donald Trump and so on. Younger groups of voters were consistently more liberal.
Other surveys have shown much the same. For example, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, Trump has an approval rate of only 29% among voters 18-29 whereas his approval rate is around 50% for those 45-54 years of age.
Trump may be prone to lying, but he’s not dumb or irrational, as some liberals seem to believe. He’s calculating in his offhand sarcastic remarks and tweets as well as his seemingly abrupt actions.
Trump stays away from Social Security and Medicare funding reductions. He’s also talking about lowering the price of pharmaceuticals. It’s not a secret why. Obviously, these topics are of great interest to our sickest citizens, seniors, who are much more likely to be Trump supporters versus the progressive younger voters.
For example, Trump has not mentioned relieving student debt. From a solely political standpoint, why would he? Again, students have a 32% voting rate versus 68% for those aged 65-74.
Although the majority of Americans support marijuana legalization (61%), Trump says nothing on the topic. Seniors, his target election group, are much less likely to support legalization versus younger cohorts, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Specifically, support for marijuana legalization in the 18-34 group is at 73% whereas it’s only 46% for those over 65. (However, it should be noted that in 1973, only 6% of seniors supported legalization.)
As the first step in ensuring a greater participation rate for college students like those at UGA, progressives need to make sure that candidates emphasize topics important to younger voters to ensure that they actually want to vote. For example, Harris just came out in favor of national marijuana legalization. It sounds easy, but it’s not given the tendency of politicians to pitch to the sure voters: seniors.
The numbers suggest that college-aged potential voters lack interest in politics compared to older generations. This may very well be the case. However, it would be a challenge to find someone who has absolutely no opinion on the President, positive or negative. The ones with strong opinions already vote one way or the other. The objective is motivating the more apathetic voters to take action.
Specifically, if liberals want to win elections, they must then get younger voters like UGA students registered. Additionally, progressives must work to make it easier for younger folks to vote by expanding early voting, creating college “holidays” on election day, having voting areas close to campuses, getting enough polling places and having them fully staffed so that there are short lines and so on.
These are not hard changes technically. But they are difficult to achieve politically when one party has a lot to gain and the other a lot to lose.