Voter turnout in the United States is historically low compared to other democratic nations. Many people are simply uninterested in the U.S. political system as it stands. This year’s election, however, could be an extremely important one according to Dr. Iraj Paydar, a Bellevue College political science teacher. He referred to how Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seem to be on completely opposite sides of the spectrum.
However, Dr. Larry Cushnie, also a political science teacher at Bellevue College, advocated that all elections are important and that this one is not different from the others. “I would argue that is something that appears to be the case right now, but really isn’t” said Cushnie when talking about how different Trump and Sanders seem. He then said that during primaries, a potential candidate usually tries to be seen as very much on one side of the spectrum in order to appeal to more voters within their parties because “people on the edge are more likely to vote in primaries. As soon as you secure that nomination, you have to move to the middle as quickly as you can.” Both Cushnie and Paydar stated that young people age 18 to 25 could make a huge impact on this election if they voted.
Which age group of citizens vote the most could be an important determining factor in this year’s election cycle, according to the professors. “Bernie Sanders has a majority of the votes of young people, while Hillary has most of the people ages 40 and up,” said Paydar. He then went on to say that Donald Trump has supporters from all over the board, but not really from young people.
The only problem with this is that the voting rate of young people is much lower than for other age groups. According to Cushnie, this may be because “there’s not a lot that’s asked of young people in that political process” or because their concerns are not addressed in campaigns. Issues like student debt, free education and acquiring employment are things that young people, many of whom are college students, care about. However, since young people don’t usually vote, candidates hesitate to make those concerns a permanent part of their policy, according to Cushnie.
Another reason young people don’t vote could be that they feel their opinions aren’t valid or they are not informed enough, according to Yazmeen Paredes, ASG justice of external affairs. “I feel like a lot of students may not care too much about voting due to lack of inspiration or education about voting,” she said. Paredes said she believed voting and staying involved was important and has “worked to stay extra involved by not only watching and reading news coverage, but discussing such things with those around me.”
What’s different about this year is that one candidate, Bernie Sanders, has frequently spoken about making education free for everyone and erasing student debt. “Bernie Sanders is very appealing to [young people] because he’s talking about it,” said Paydar. He did admit that free education probably isn’t attainable, even with Sanders as president, but he could at least be someone who tries to make it more affordable. Sanders has broken a cycle that Cushnie explained has been the reason many college students don’t vote, “if young people voted more, their issues would be addressed more often, but because their issues aren’t addressed, they don’t feel the need to vote.”
Now that these issues are being addressed, the next step would be to get young people to vote. “Those in the 18-25 demographic have an incredibly low turnout,” said Cushnie. “If they as a collection of people participated more in every election, they could literally sway even federal elections.” Paydar also said that the impact of young people voting in the upcoming election “would make a difference.”
Despite all of this, Cushnie said that candidates always change their policies to appeal more to the middle of the conservative-liberal spectrum after they are elected as the primary candidate of a party. Even Trump will have to do this if he wants to win, according to Cushnie. “You can already see his policy positions moving toward the middle and becoming less extreme,” he said.
Both professors and Paredes concluded that it was extremely important for young people to vote because it is their lives that will be affected the most. Cushnie said that young people are the ones who “are going to be dealing with those policies in years to come.” Paredes added to this by stating that she thinks voting should be important to everyone. “If we don’t vote, we are waiving our own right to have feelings about political matters, even those that pertain directly to us,” she said. “Look at the candidates this year. Pay attention to the race. Voting now is more important than ever.”