Studies show the youth vote is declining.
In a survey published in September, the Pew Research Center found that the number of people ages 18-29 registered to vote was lower than 2008 and 2004. According to the report, 50 percent of adults under 30 polled said they planned to vote, as compared to 57 percent in 2004 and 61 percent in 2008.
“I think that it’s easy to forget that your voice counts,” said Ada Waelder, ASUW student senate speaker. “You can get in a bubble on campus.”
The national trend of young adults failing to vote, along with overall voter apathy, is a common theme during presidential election years. In Washington, only 38.5 percent of registered voters submitted ballots in the August primary, the lowest turnout in years for an election year, and 34,129 voters between the ages of 18-24 registered to vote in 2012 compared to 55,521 in 2008.
“I believe another aspect that affects young adult voter turnout is that many politicians seem out of touch with us and the issues most of us care about,” Russell Wiita, member of the College Republicans at UW and social media coordinator for local state representative candidate Elizabeth Scott, wrote in an email.
Throughout the early fall months, volunteers seeking to sign students up to vote are a common sight on campus. Some classes also host appeals to update voter registration forms.
The ASUW Office of Government Relations (OGR) spearheaded such efforts along with other public universities in Washington. This year, 14,357 students throughout Washington public universities signed up to vote through the Washington Student Association (WSA) drive.
“One advantage is that we’re in the middle of a city,” said Lucas Barash-David, OGR assistant director. “It’s not very comparable to, say, the 1970s … I don’t think that there are pressing issues like the draft. It’s not an activist culture, but it’s vibrant.”
The OGR reported 1,543 students signed up at the UW so far; this number does not account for students already registered to vote. Waelder also said that since the UW starts its academic year in late September, political groups on campus do not have a lot of time to organize and push voting issues that concern students.
“The political scene is largely based on national issues including unemployment, healthcare, and taxes,” Wiita said. “For the most part, college students are just not feeling as though their interests are being looked out for, resulting in low voter turnout.”
Miles Fernandez, OGR organizing coordinator, cited 2008’s level of young voter engagement as an anomaly.
“Social issues tend to get more young people out as it’s easier to see the changes,” Waelder said. “Less tangible issues are harder [to get involved in].”
Shelby Woods, president of the Young Democrats at UW, worked with the College Republicans during Dawg Daze to register voters. Since then, the groups advocated for their respective candidates.
“I don’t think people aren’t excited,” Woods said. “We care about financial aid, gay marriage, etc. We’re all just pretty busy people, with classes and extracurriculars … It’s hard to get people to commit to something that is useful but not leisure.”
Reach reporter Garrett Black at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GarrettJBlack
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