Low voter turnout limits youth voices, but they still matter in elections

David Dam

The 2016 presidential election is going viral. Candidates, vying for the youth vote, are targeting social media sites such as Instagram to reach out to younger voters. But while social media is overwhelmingly dominated by the 18–29 demographic, younger voters are, ironically, the least likely to even participate in the upcoming presidential elections. After peaking at nearly 43 percent in 2008, the voter turnout rate among young people declined to only 19.9 percent in 2014, the lowest percentage on record. As a result, youth issues are discussed by the few and acted upon by the fewer.

Student loan debt, along with tuition costs, have risen exponentially over the last two decades. And for those who decided to enter the workforce instead of college, the youth unemployment rate was 12.2 percent as of July 2015, significantly higher than the nation’s general unemployment rate. But many of these problems are largely ignored or glossed over in comparison to other issues of national prominence.

Voting could be key to changing that. Audrey Black, an international relations and global studies freshman, believes voting is important and can bring more attention to the lesser-known problems that young people face.

“There are so many problems that the government needs to address, such as student loan reforms and the rising costs of college tuition,” Black said. “Collectively, we could influence more politicians to pay attention to us.”

Turning out would be key to changing the national debate, as demonstrated by the success of other voting groups. For instance, the voter turnout rate among those 65 and older is 69.7 percent. They are represented by huge interest groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons. That drowns out younger voices in the political process.

The problems that our generation face today are only going to grow exponentially in the next few years. It is our responsibility to change how issues are focused on in Congress and influence what legislation is passed. After all, we are often labeled as the self-centered, selfie-filled  “Me Generation,” and turning out to vote is in our best interests.

Many voters will not be around for the next 30 or 40 years, but we will. It’s up to us to influence the trajectory of our future and our nation.

David Dam is a linguistics and Spanish freshman from Cedar Park. He is a guest columnist. Follow him on Twitter @daviddamwrite.