New Data: Student Voting Doubled in Midterm Elections
As presidential campaigns invest in outreach to young people, more must be done to channel the enthusiasm of young voters.
College students voted in record numbers in the 2018 midterm elections, according to a new report by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). The study found that a staggering 40.3 percent of college students voted nationwide — double the rate of the 2014 midterms — meaning that 7.5 million college students cast their ballot in 2018.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how students are more engaged than ever in their government, but this report proves it,” said Clarissa Unger, Director of Civic Engagement for Young Invincibles. “As the most diverse generation in history, today’s young people face their own unique set of challenges, and it’s absolutely critical that their voice is heard at every level of government. With the 2020 elections already approaching, local leaders nationwide are hard at work to ensure that we can build on this upswell of youth engagement and ensure every young person has the ability to vote for leaders who have their best interests at heart.”
Other notable findings of the NSLVE report include:
- In the general population, voting rates increased 13.6 percentage points between 2014 and 2018, but for college students, the increase was 21 points.
- There was a 22.5 percent increase in the Hispanic student voting rate.
- Every racial/ethnic group of students had a higher voting rate in 2018 than in 2014.
“More than ever, young people are struggling with student debt, stagnating wages, and an economy that is leaving them behind,” said Unger. “While presidential candidates have clearly started to further emphasize reaching students, they need to double down on that effort to ensure that young voters are not an afterthought, but rather a cornerstone to our country’s future.”
Recognizing the growing impact that young people will have on the 2020 election, presidential campaigns are adapting to embrace new policies to address the challenges facing young people, sharing their own personal experiences with those issues, and utilizing different media platforms to meet young voters where they are. For instance:
- For the first time in recent memory, issues like college affordability — a defining issue for this generation — are hotly-debated issues in the campaign. Candidates have offered a variety of solutions to the $1.6 trillion student loan crisis, including loan forgiveness, free college, free community college, and increasing Pell Grants, among other proposals.
- Candidates are openly sharing their experiences with the issues that young people care about. For instance, both Governor Steve Bullock and Mayor Pete Buttigieg have spoken at length about the impact that their student loans have had on their lives. Meanwhile, Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have shared their experiences with racial inequality — another issue motivating young people this election.
- Rather than relying on traditional campaign techniques like television ads and campaign rallies to reach young people, candidates are recognizing that young people’s media consumption is different from previous generations and expanding into new media platform to reach those voters. For instance, candidates like businessman Andrew Yang and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard have embraced podcasts as a tool to speak to directly to younger audiences. Others have joined YouTube shows, or have launched their own social media programming to reach young people.
Still, young people are voting at disproportionately low numbers compared to other age groups. That’s why it’s as important as ever that presidential campaigns build on their efforts to engage young people about the issues impacting their lives and offer concrete, actionable plans to help ensure every young person has the support and resources they need to reach a financially secure future.