For some, it is a given that American citizens have a duty to vote and on a college campus, the importance of the millennial vote has become a hot topic of discussion. The millennial generation, which includes the demographic aged 18-35, is expected to be the largest demographic by 2020, surpassing the Baby Boomers — aged 52-70 — for the first time in American history. As stated in an article by The Guardian, there are almost as many eligible voters in the 18-35 age group as there are in the 52-70 age group.
Despite the vast diversity and size of this generation, the millennial vote was often overlooked. Back in 2012, 45 percent of the millennial generation, aged 18-29, voted. While that’s nearly half, this number isn’t as significant as the 68 percent of voters who cast their vote in 2012 from Generation X. According to the Pew Research Center, the Baby Boomers and prior generations accounted for 56 percent of those who said they had voted. The millennials accounted for 19 percent of the overall vote, according to Business Insider. Considering that only 19 percent voted, presidential candidates chose to overlook the importance of the vote.
Now, in 2016, the public is doing everything they can to get the youngest eligible generation out there to vote and improve on the 19 percent.
Rock the Vote has worked to revolutionize the way that students vote. In 1999, they made online registration possible and this year, they have played a huge role in assisting the voting process. According to their website, nearly 12,000 young people turn 18 every single day and once 18, they can participate in the election.
For many Fairfield students, this will be the first time that they will be eligible to vote in the election, as many students were not 18 by November of their senior year of high school. The University has made several efforts to improve the amount of students voting. Students had the opportunity to register to vote on-campus and now, for the first time ever, students will have the opportunity to actually vote on campus. Despite all of these efforts, nationally and at Fairfield, getting millennials to vote this year has and will continue to be a challenge.
“I am very concerned that on the day after Nov. 8, we might see a very low voter turn-out from the millennials,” stated Professor of Art History and Visual Culture and Director of the Open VISIONS Forum Philip Eliasoph. “For a school offering such a rich curriculum anchored in social justice, community engagement and global citizenship, it would seem to be a total disconnect that we have students unwilling to walk the walk in fulfilling these educational goals.”
Eliasoph has polled his students and several student leaders on campus to see whether or not they’ll be voting in the election. He discovered that of the more than 100 students he surveyed, between 30 and 50 percent of these students will be voting on Nov. 8.
“To realize that students at this top-tier level of educational achievement would abdicate their citizenship responsibilities has a horrifying ring to it,” said Eliasoph.
For those not choosing to vote, there are several reasons. Whether it be missing deadlines, lack of knowledge in the absentee ballot process or feeling like their vote doesn’t matter, one of the biggest issues that remains is the lack of interest in both candidates.
Freshman Emily Pappas will not be voting due to lack of knowledge she has about the candidates. “I’ve never watched any of the debates or read anything on [the candidates] so I feel like it wouldn’t be right to vote if I didn’t really have enough knowledge on it.”
Junior Lydia Dupree had a similar view.
“Each vote matters and whoever is elected into office affects the whole country and every person in the country,” she said. “It also affects relationships between countries. So I think that if everyone is educated in voting, they should vote.”
According to Chair of the Politics Department Janie Leatherman, those who are unsure about who to vote for should read the websites of both parties and of both candidates. She explained that students should be aware of the policies of the candidates, what each political party represents in terms of the party platforms and what the difference between a Democratic and Republican dominated congress might be.
“Voting and not voting are both ways to express a position. Not voting is sometimes seen as a protest,” Leatherman added that despite this, by choosing not to vote, people are “handing the outcome to someone else” rather than actively voicing their opinion.
Leatherman continued, “So I would encourage people who aren’t comfortable with finding a candidate on the ballot, and there’s more than just the two primary candidates, to really think about what not voting would really mean.”
Senior Zach Schaefer said, “Whether you like it or not, one of these two candidates is going to be our president, so I think it’s important that you vote for who better represents who you believe in. So I think you shouldn’t waste your vote.”
Freshman Nick Trewartha, who has already voted using an absentee ballot, echoed Leatherman’s statement.
“The options this year are not so great,” Trewartha said. “This election year, as far as I’m aware, does not represent all election years. Just because we’re stuck with only a few limited options doesn’t justify that we should not vote because if we don’t [vote], we’re not living up to what America should be.”
However, Yamil Cobo ‘19 believed that whether or not a person votes should be up to that person.
“I think it’s a matter of your opinion,” said Cobo. “It’s probably better that people vote, but if it’s that close of a race, it’s really their opinion.”
Eliasoph had a different view, adding that students who choose not to exercise their right to vote in the election are going against the Jesuit values that Fairfield stands by, especially the principle of “men and women for others.” According to Eliasoph, neglecting to vote shows disrespect for life or death issues such as “capital punishment [and] pro-choice versus pro-life, […] issues that are of the highest urgency and priority.”
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick ‘70 said, “My Father fought in World War II for the right to vote or not vote … isn’t that the beauty of this democracy? I just hope that if you decide not to vote, it’s not out of laziness, but conviction.”