Universities are political battlegrounds, yet college-aged voter turnout is low


Ashton Nanninga

Universities are often hubs for political discourse. It is rare to walk across a college campus without activists handing out flyers or student organizations excitedly holding pens waiting for you to sign their newest form. More often than not, groups are grasping clipboards asking if you have registered to vote. Most students will duck their heads and put in their headphones if any contact is made. And with the midterm election drawing nearer, these instances will be harder for students to avoid.

But why is it that college students dodge such interactions? In 2016, only 44.8 percent of students ages 18 to 21 voted nationwide, according to a study done at Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education. The study breaks down voter turnout into subcategories such as race/ethnicity, gender, age, etc. In most instances, voter turnout among college students has increased a few percentage points from 2012 to 2016. However, the percentages still remain insufficiently low.

Farah Stockman, writer for the New York Times, categorizes voter turnout as being “abysmally low among young people” and the minimal percentages have “long been the hallmark of American elections, particularly in midterm year.”

Recent UNO graduate, Robbie Morrissey, gave several reasons for why he didn’t vote in the most recent election.

“I’m not well educated on the matter of politics, so I don’t want to vote based off my uneducated opinion,” said Morrissey. “And if it [politics] ever gets brought up within our age group, it just ends up in an argument.”

This seems to be a common thread among the discourse surrounding the most recent election. Our political climate has turned into one of hate speech and name calling. This is especially present within peer groups and college classrooms.

Brandon Bakke, former UNO student, has cast his vote in presidential elections in the past. However, he understands the reasons behind students avoiding the polls.

“Voting is really inefficient,” Bakke said. “I see why people aren’t particularly compelled to do it.”

Clearly, low voter turnout among college students is an ongoing phenomenon. Percentages may have risen within the last four years, but they are barely reaching the 50 percent mark. The recent election intertwined with so much hate and polarization is not setting a steady foundation for students to build their political investment on.

“Young people have the lowest turnout rates of all because they are more transient and have not yet established the habit of voting,” said Kenneth R. Mayer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

It is more than just being creatures of habit. In order for voter turnout rates to rise among college students and even the general population, issues within party politics need to be addressed and resolved. Holding clipboards asking for names isn’t enough to get 18 to 21-year-olds to stand in line waiting to cast a vote.