COMMENTARY: Generation gets ready to make its statement
With less than two weeks left until Election Day, stakes are high for both the presidential candidates and their parties. Despite an established reputation as unreliable voters, youths make up a growing and crucial bloc with the power to shape the upcoming election, as previous generations shaped theirs. The millennial generation, which consists of residents of the United States born after about 1980, now outnumbers previous generations, like the Baby Boomer generation, at a staggering population of about 76 million. But, many still feel they are too far from the center of politics to create an impact.
Still, we must wonder why youth engagement in the political process is so different from previous generations. Interestingly, youth engagement seems to have a correlation with the voter registration process. Recent research at the Pew Research Center reveals that only 50 percent of adults under the age of 30 are absolutely certain they are registered to vote. A variety of reasons could account for this such as an inconvenient registration process or a lack of interest in civic engagement.
Here at Rutgers University, however, political engagement seems to be on the rise in many different ways. Many student groups, as well as other partisan and non-partisan organizations, seek to raise awareness of civic engagement and the importance of voting and they have set up voter registration tables in order to make involvement easier for students.
Before these attempts, many students felt detached from the voting process. When asked about her take on the registration process, one Rutgers student said, “We (millennials) understand the importance of voting, but don’t necessarily want to go out of our way. We live in an era of technology, and the registration process is antiquated, and doesn’t cater to this generation and its needs. If there was an app which you could register through, I think registration in our age group would be much higher. Still, it’s helpful that you can register here on campus.” In an age where the use of social media and technology is exceptionally common among youths, an in-person or by-mail voter registration seems outdated and widens the gap between young voters and the political process. Consequently, that gap can lead to apathy and feelings of disempowerment, which discourages eligible voters from participation.
Millennial voting patterns have fluctuated in recent presidential elections, and the numbers could go either way this year. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), in 2004, about 48 percent of Millennials voted, and rates rose to 50 percent in 2008, but then decreased in 2012 to 45 percent. Accordingly, it will be difficult to foresee turnout rates among youths in the upcoming elections. Thus, it is important to spread the word about the importance of being registered and turning out to vote on election day.
For this upcoming election, Rutgers students, like millennials across the country, seem to be taking a great interest in politics. Here on campus, hundreds of students have just registered to vote and are anxious to take part in America’s biggest decision this November. Even more have gone out to watch debates with their friends and classmates at events like the second presidential debate watch at the Yard on College Avenue.
At universities nationwide and here at Rutgers, the glass remains half-full. Recent voting rates above 50 percent have been encouraging. Moreover, for this generation, the meaning of “civic engagement” is far broader than just voting. Millennials have shown high rates of volunteering, community service and civic use of social media when compared to previous generations. Millennials have been known to make their voices heard through boycotting and protests, and they like to challenge conventional norms. With a little encouragement, they can stand on the shoulders of those who came before them and get a better glimpse at a more promising future. Here at Rutgers, we are eager to see whether all the efforts to encourage students will bear fruit.
Mary Fam is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science.
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