Hey, Curious Campus: Why is voter turnout among young people so low in midterm elections?

Megan Menchaca

Despite the significant role in the role of government in lives of young people, they often have the lowest voter turnout in elections nationwide.

Less than 20 percent of 18 to 29-year olds cast ballots in the 2014 midterms — the lowest rate of youth turnout ever recorded in a midterm election.

So, when one of our readers asked us, “Why is the voter turnout among young people so low in the midterm elections,” we looked into it as part of Curious Campus, our new series where we answer reader-submitted questions every week.

Associate government professor Bethany Albertson said decreased media attention leads to lower turnout in midterm elections among young people .

“(Young people) move around more, they have less chances to get registered, and then when you take an environment in which the election is less central to everyday conversation, it’s much less likely that young people are going to recognize their role in democracy,” Albertson said

Jay Jennings, postdoctoral fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute, said younger people also vote less because they move around often and must adjust to new voter registration requirements and polling places.

“People that are older are more likely to have lived in the area for longer,” Jennings said. “You have to know about the issues in your communities and how to register and if you're moving to a new area or to college, you probably don't know all of those pieces of information.

But low voter turnout among young people isn’t just the case at the national level. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, only 18 percent of UT students voted in the 2014 midterm elections.

Despite the historically low turnout among young voters in the 2014 midterms, Jennings and Albertson said they also believe voter turnout among UT students in the 2018 midterms will increase because of an increase in registrations and enthusiasm about the U.S. Senate race.

“What makes UT a little bit different than other campuses is that some organizations around campus have become really efficient in increasing student registration and turnout,” Jennings said.

Maya Patel, TX Votes vice president, said her organization hopes to improve voter turnout through tabling everyday before the election and providing nonpartisan voter guides that remind students to vote.

“We need to vote so that politicians start listening and hearing our problems and doing what we want them to do,” Patel said. “There are so many issues that are being talked about in this upcoming election and all of them affect us and our futures.”

Albertson said it's important for young voters to get people involved in politics who will prioritize affordability of college education, health care and the job market.

“Young people need to vote so that politicians talk about their issues,” Albertson said. “Politicians disproportionately talk about issues that are relevant to older people and that's because older people vote. But if young people are able to exert themselves into a political force, they will change the conversation.”