30.6 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 live in the United States. Young people represent a tremendous force and a large percentage of the population that has the opportunity to make a huge impact on the politics of our nation. As history shows, this demographic of voters consistently participate the least in elections. There are myriad factors that contribute to this lack of participation; some are the faults of our youth and our inexperience; some are the fault of our society.
Regardless of where the fault lies, it is unmistakable that the common misconception that teens are naturally apathetic toward politics has been challenged in recent years. The rise of youth activism concerning issues that affect the daily lives and futures of teens, including gun violence and climate change, has brought about a new era in teenage political involvement. In the past few years, these kinds of issues have increasingly risen to the forefront of politics. March for Our Lives and March for Climate Justice are just two examples of young people using their voices. Without teens, the current political landscape would not reflect nearly as wide a variety of issues.
Teen participation in politics is more than just speaking up, speaking out, and marching. It is also about being informed and using our voice at the ballot box the first chance we get.
Even though most of the Acalanes student body cannot vote, the outcomes of elections in our community and at the national level have huge impacts on our lives. The politicians we elect go on to make decisions about student loan reforms, education reforms, and decisions about our health care. Some candidates even propose a universal free public college system, which is a reform that will change our lives immensely. Along with issues concerning college, there are plenty of other issues that affect every single one of us, and every student in the country.
One major obstacle for teens in their pursuit of political participation is registering and then actually voting. 84 percent of young people who register actually turn out and cast a ballot. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), in the most recent midterm election, an estimated 31 percent of people aged 18-29 voted, compared to 21 percent in 2014.
Although increasing voter participation among young people is necessary, the statistic of only 31 percent of people our age turning out to vote, though improving form 2014, is alarming. These statistics clearly point to the importance of registration. When so many people are making the conscious decision to not participate in such an important aspect of our American culture— a change must be made. There are so many easy ways to register such as simply online, and at the DMV. It is important to take this step in the voting process to make sure your voice can count for something in our country. Even Ariana Grande has booths dedicated to registering to vote set up at all of her concerts to encourage registration. If thousands of teens at Ariana Grande’s concerts can register to vote, so can you.
But, voting is not just about registration. One day, we will be able to vote, but we will not miraculously come to know everything about the matters we vote on. We will be ignorant to the issues politicians campaigned on and the reforms they seek to implement. This is why it’s so important we pay attention now.
It is about becoming an informed citizen so that votes can count. Youth must also navigate the process (and it is a process) of becoming informed, educated voters. Biased news networks and even some politicians twist the truth and present inaccurate, partisan opinions on issues while claiming to be factual. In becoming educated and forming our own unique opinions that will change the world through the ballot box, we must focus on facts and think logically. We must not let influencers or TV personalities dictate our votes and our opinions.
The 2020 election will be a pivotal point in our nation’s history. There are numerous issues on the line– climate change, health care reform, and immigration laws that could impact each of our futures. In almost every single election, 18-29-year-olds are historically the group of people who vote the least. We are the most apathetic. We believe we are the most immune. We believe that politics will not affect our lives.
As the landscape of American politics has shifted, the youth has become more and more involved in advocating for the issues we believe to be important.
In 2020, members of both the current junior and senior classes will have the opportunity to cast a ballot for a candidate they believe in. The outcome of that election has implications even larger than we could ever perceive.
We have both the power and the honor of being able to exercise our political views with a ballot. Our ballots are our voices. A voter has the obligation to be informed, so that our voices speak our truths. There are still two years until that fateful election; paying attention to the news allows each voter in the Acalanes community to form his or her own opinions, and make the judgment of who he or she deems right to lead our country.