Young voters have the potential to be a force to reckon with, but only if they're able to overcome the obstacle barring them from relevance: apathy.
America's young people have organized a massive gun control campaign, tried to block the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and have been a force in the #MeToo movement. That was just this year. But despite the growing activism among young voters, most of them are unlikely to turn out Tuesday.
Millennials are poised to overtake baby boomers as the largest generation in the electorate within the next year. Generation X, millennials and Generation Z have the potential to be a force to reckon with — but only if they're able to overcome the foremost obstacle barring them from political relevance: apathy.
"Young people don’t think that their vote matters or counts," says Alyssa Archie, a 21-year-old intern at the National Organization for Women.
She was one of the six young engaged voters I spoke to about what they see as barriers to a flourishing voter turnout among the youngest voter bloc.
Archie is right. Sixty-six percent of young people are "pessimistic" about the worth of their vote. Layla Zaidane, a member of the Millennial Action Project, says it’s a "tragedy of the commons."
"Thinking of the impact of yourself as an individual, and not thinking about it in a sea of change, is what leads to these feelings of apathy or frustratedness," she says.
Young voters have reason to question their vote's value. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump received nearly 3 million fewer votes than did Hillary Clinton, but through the workings of the Electoral College, he won the presidency. This is not insignificant to young people, who voted overwhelmingly for Clinton.
For elections in the middle of presidential terms, millennials trail baby boomers in turnout. When boomers were 25-29 years old, 36 percent of them showed up at midterms. Millennials lag behind them at a rate of 26 percent.
"It's about representation. It’s hard for people our age to connect with your typical politician," suggests Madeleine Balestrier.
Brad Polumbo, a member of advocacy group Young Voices, agreed that he doesn't feel that his U.S. senator, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., reflects his values. "She spends a lot of time on national issues, previewing her presidential election," he says.
Young voters recognize that their concerns and the concerns of their representatives don’t necessarily align, but typically, their reaction to this realization is a nihilistic one. Why bother voting?
A change is happening
Candidates are getting younger and more diverse, and this could be the key to inspiring young voters. At 84, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, might not excite young voters, but a fresh face, like 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, might be enough to gather young support.
Ocasio-Cortez, a New Yorker who is vying for a House seat, ran a Democratic primary campaign that targeted young people. Her platform includes stances on student loan debt and climate change, two issues that members of the panel noted as things that energize them.
If the recent political circus has caught the attention of young people and engaged them enough to vote, then a blue wave is more likely. Millennials are reliably Democratic, unlike older voters.
The 2017 special election in Alabama is an example of this. The contentious race for a vacant Senate seat was ultimately won by Democrat Doug Jones. Twenty-three percent of Alabama’s young people voted in this election, and 60 percent of them voted for Jones.
Although Democrats have the most to gain by exciting young voters, it seems they haven't done a sufficient job. Only a quarter of young voters say they’re "certain" to vote in the midterm elections.
More novel approaches, such as throwing parties at polls, have also been shown to get people out to vote. Even Taylor Swift’s uncharacteristic endorsement of Democratic candidates inspired 65,000 people to register to vote in a single 24-hour period, although the challenge remains of having them show up on Election Day.
It’s unfortunate that young people have to be coaxed and courted to get them to the polls. Apathy is surely a privilege, but as young people are subjected to the harsher realities of the 21st century — insurmountable student debt, accumulating national debt, the threat of climate catastrophe — they might just be persuaded to pry themselves from Netflix long enough to vote.