Voter turnout at on-campus polling places, as well as the number of people registered to vote on campus, has decreased over the past three presidential elections, according to preliminary records from the Los Angeles County Registrar.
Two hundred and thirty-eight ballots were cast at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center on Nov. 8, out of 1,418 registered voters. According to historic ballot data from the L.A. County Registrar, 820 ballots were cast at the same location in the 2012 general election, out of 1,663 registered voters for that location. In the 2008 general election, 1,201 ballots were cast out of 1,958 registered voters.
Political science professor Ann Crigler proposed several causes for the lower number of voters in this election cycle, including lower total registration or a difference in student body demographics, which would possibly lead to more out-of-state voters or non-American citizens. Crigler also noted that USC fell far short of UCLA in the voter registration competition, citing political disengagement as another possible cause for the lower turnout at USC and in the nation as a whole.
“There’s a lot of contention in this election, at the presidential level especially, and some of that has been found to make people more cynical and feel as if, ‘why bother to participate in this?’” Crigler said. “A lot of people are arguing that they had a choice between two bads, and they were just going to have to pick the one that was less bad. That’s not a real inspiring, ‘get out and vote’ kind of effort.”
For some students, choosing between two candidates that they felt were unappealing kept them out of the polls. Danielle Dirksen, a freshman majoring in environmental studies, didn’t register to vote because she said both of the candidates seemed “hopeless.” However, she said that the trajectory of the election and the numerous advertisements and persuasions to vote swayed her to feel guilty about her decision.
“Three days before the election I regretted not registering, but by then it was too late,” Dirksen said. “I realized how serious this election really was, and it does matter if you vote. One vote itself is not going to change anything, but if multiple people think the way I did, it’ll have an impact.”
Because of the “winner-take-all” system, all of the electoral votes in a state are granted to whichever candidate gets the majority of the popular vote. In a state such as California, which leans overwhelmingly liberal, conservatives such as Maxwell Brandon, a freshman majoring in business administration who identifies as a Republican, may feel that their votes do not have as much of an impact.
“I voted to exercise my right to vote, which a lot of people don’t have, and to say I took part in the election process,” Brandon said. “Even though in this state, [my vote] doesn’t really matter as far as the presidential election, some of the smaller stuff does matter.”
This often leads students who have the opportunity to vote elsewhere to seize that opportunity. Timothy Nguyen, a senior majoring in cinematic arts, critical studies and accounting, decided to vote in his home state of Florida instead of at USC.
“Especially because I live in a battleground state … I would have felt guilty if I didn’t partake in my constitutional right to vote,” Nguyen said. “For the most part I was very ambivalent about this presidential election, but when I consulted with my friends, they were very concerned about their safety and their place in America. I felt like it was my duty to represent their views on the election as best as I could.”
For Jerica Manuel, a sophomore majoring in computer science (games), concern about her family’s place in America was what led her to vote in this presidential election.
“My mom talked about [this election] a lot more than she did other elections,” Manuel said. “‘[Trump] hates us,’ she’d say, and by ‘us’, she meant immigrants. I’m the only U.S. citizen in my family, so I voted, because my family didn’t, and still doesn’t, have a voice.”
Political science assistant professor Morris Levy, however, warned against drawing definitive conclusions about the reasons for the results of the election based on voter turnout when all the data has not yet been collected. Much of the speculation is just that, and according to Levy, diagnosing specific ethnic groups’ failure to turn out to vote as being the cause of the outcome is premature. He said, however, that the way the polls were read may have misled voters.
“The polls were wrong in this case about the outcome, but they weren’t that dramatically or ridiculously wrong about how the popular vote would turn out,” Levy said. “I think before we suggest that something terribly unexpected happened here relative to what the polls were showing, we need to know more.”