The following feature appears in the Spring 2016 issue of Medley Magazine.
The 2016 presidential election has brought the rise of Donald Trump, an endless supply of Ted Cruz memes, and the nail-biting showdown between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
The one gift it hasn’t delivered is the elusive youth vote. In 2014, voter turnout dipped across the board, hitting a new low within young voters. Only about 40 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2012 election, compared to 70 percent of those ages 60 and up. Despite a surge in the 2008 elections, voters ages 18 to 29 tend to have the lowest voter turnout of any other age group in the country. The most common explanation is that voters believe their votes don’t count.
Break those numbers down further, and that low turnout translates into class, race, and income level gaps. Disproportionately, missing eligible voters are poor or working-class people of color. Those disparities reveal more places where underrepresented voters have dipped out and, if boosted, could lead to drastically different policy directions.
In the 2015 report “Why Voting Matters: Large Disparities in Turnout Benefit the Donor,” public policy organization Demos compares political opinions between voters and nonvoters to find the viewpoints that go missing when eligible voters fail to show up. In general, nonvoters were more progressive, supporting policies “more supportive of policies that help lower-income Americans and those with less opportunity due to institutional and interpersonal racism.”
Meanwhile, the same types of voters — white, educated, and affluent — are coming out to the polls, skewing which demographics get represented in Congress. In 2014, over 76 percent of the voters were white. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voter turnout is highest in people with advanced degrees and those who earn an average salary of over $150,000 a year. Meanwhile, the average U.S. household income is $51,939 according to the Census Bureau 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Clinton in particular has pursued the emerging black, brown, and female vote, with mixed results.
However, Shana Gadarian, an assistant political science professor in the Maxwell School, stresses that voting may not be worthwhile for everyone because it is costly for some to vote, in both time and money. “People who participate are more highly educated, more white; they’re richer and they know more about politics than people who don’t participate. And therefore they have significantly different preferences over things like the size and scope of government,” Gadarian says. “Democracy is about the voice of a people as a whole.” Older voters who do show up at the polls tend to be more conservative, while younger voters tend to be more liberal, according to the Pew Research Center. Whatever trends might dictate, the election in November will be decided by those who turn up to polling stations and cast their vote.
written by Paige Kelly & Natsumi Ajisaka