Eagleton study finds uptick in voter turnout at Rutgers
Rutgers student voter turnout rates were 7.4 percent higher in 2016 than the previous year, to a total of 54 percent, showing an uptick in student civic engagement, the Eagleton Institute of Politics announced.
The turnout rates at Rutgers—New Brunswick were also higher than comparable research institutions, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE).
Upperclassmen voted at higher rates than first-year students and sophomores, and more women voted than men, according to a press release.
"I think the increase can be attributed to both the nature of the campaign itself and efforts taken on this campus to register and mobilize students," said Elizabeth Matto, the director of the Center for Youth Political Participation (CYPP). "In a number of ways, the 2016 campaign was unique and engaged students in ways they hadn't been engaged in previous years — even during the primary season."
Students were tuned in and passionate about playing a part in the 2016 election, Matto said. It was this interest that resulted in higher turnout rates on Election Day.
The decisions being made by public officials from City Hall, to the New Jersey State Legislature, to Congress, will affect them — from tuition rates to health care, Matto said.
RU Voting, part of the CYPP, and Rutgers are always improving efforts to register students to vote and get them to the polls, she said.
"RU Voting leads the way ... when it comes to providing students with nonpartisan information that is particular to Rutgers students," Matto said.
The CYPP partnered with Student Affairs in many ways, which included co-sponsoring voter registration drives and debate watches, to free shuttles to voting locations and Snapchat filters on Election Day, she said.
"The University administration has gone above and beyond to support all of the organizations under the Rutgers umbrella and has promised even more support as part of the Big Ten Voting Challenge initiative," said Brendan Keating, the program coordinator for the CYPP.
The registration process can be burdensome to college students, and RU Voting is the arm of Rutgers that administrators, faculty and students turn to as a "resource to support Rutgers students' political participation," Matto said.
Keating said civic engagement involves more than voting.
"There is a misconception that if you ignore politics, then politics will ignore you," he said. "That's just not the case. Civic engagement involves much more than voting."
Civic engagement involves speaking up when something can be improved in your community, volunteering for things you believe in, getting to know your neighbors, following the news and even running for office or supporting a candidate, he said.
The electoral calendar does not always work in students' favor, and for first-year students, by the time they settle into campus and classes the voter registration deadline has already passed, Matto said.
In the future Matto hopes that voter registration and education will be more integrated into the orientation and first-year experience so students find that by Election Day, they are already registered to vote, she said.
"Expressing your political preferences at the ballot box is a powerful tool that this generation has at its disposal — the extent to which young adults use this tool and the manner in which they use it can shape the course of American democracy," Matto said.
Alexandra DeMatos is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and women's and gender studies. She is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @dematosaa for more.