As Americans, we are very fortunate to live in a nation where we can speak freely, protest openly and elect our leaders fairly. Yet, according to TheDailyDot.com, in the 2016 election, a mere 58% of all eligible voters cast their ballot. When compared to other developed countries, the United States has one of the lowest voter activity rates, placing 31st out of 35th countries evaluated. According to USA Today, out of those who turned up at the polls in 2016, only 19% were 18 to 29-year-olds, a dismal statistic considering that they made up 36% of all eligible voters. Upper Division History teacher Mr. Erik Lipham was not surprised by these statistics.
“It’s a traditional trend ever since 18-year-olds got the right to vote,” Lipham said. “With the 26th amendment in 1971, it’s just been a continued precipitous decline in terms of 18 to 29 year-olds actually going to vote.” Young people have the potential to be a powerful political force, yet most of them fail to exercise their right to vote.
What causes such a low turnout among young voters? Talk to a member of Generation Z today, and they may give some of the following excuses for their lack of political participation:
“My one vote won’t make a difference.”
“Politics aren’t relevant to my life.”
“Politicians do not care about the issues that affect me.”
It is easy to believe that a single vote will not make a difference in an election where millions of ballots are being cast. However, many elections have demonstrated the importance of every single vote. According to The Borgen Project, one vote can and has decided past elections; in 2008, a single vote decided the Alaskan congressional race. In 1974, the election for the United States Senator from New Hampshire was determined by just two votes.
Low voter turnout among young people also seems to stem from the belief that politics has no significant effect on their life. In reality, the decisions that are being made in Washington will affect them not only today but also in years to come. Politicians decide on higher education costs, student loan policies, unemployment policies and minimum wage—all issues that could affect Generation Z down the line. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment than the Generation X and the Baby Boomers had at that age. As Berkeley students graduate from college and enter the real world, they will be faced with these issues; this means that they have an economic interest during each election and should make sure that their voices are heard.
Problems that will shape our lives in the future are also being decided on by politicians today. When asked what issues young people should be most concerned with, Director of Global Scholars Program and Upper Division History teacher Tim Torkilsen said, “Number one, I think is the environment, because [it affects] not only you, but then your children and their children. This is a problem that, looking out, has to have long-term solutions, and it’s going to need people to care about it now in order to have impacts in the future.”
Policies on global climate change, air pollution and ozone layer depletion are just a few of the many factors that will shape our tomorrow. Decisions made now could have drastic and potentially irreversible effects. According to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, in 2014, the top ten companies responsible for dumping up to 95 million pounds of pollution into our waterways spent $53 million lobbying decision makers. As a result, the House of Representatives voted twice to keep the Clean Water Act from being passed. Through voting, young people have the power to elect politicians who will stand up for them.
“Young people who don’t vote are giving up their futures to people who don’t necessarily have the same goals as we do,” Bethany Schneider ’19 said. “I am going to vote, because I realize that my vote matters. The state of our country is scary to me, and I intend to do everything I can to fix it.”
Generation Z, your one vote does count.
Politics are relevant to your life.
Politicians have less of an incentive to address the issues that concern you if you do not go to the polls. If the majority of Generation Z voted, you would become Washington’s priority. So, go vote. Your future is in your hands.
To find out the truth about common voting myths, visit: https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/politics/2018/07/23/24-florida-election-and-voting-myths-debunked#ballot