We want to vote, it’s just unnecessarily difficult to do so

Elections in the United States are a big deal, especially presidential elections. Americans take pride in their right to vote, wearing their “I Voted” stickers like badges of honor as they exit the polls. This high level of patriotism is long standing in the U.S., but recently, American citizens have been less than proud of their country as voter turnout among American youth is on a downward trend. It seems the pride associated with voting has not been passed on to Gen-Z. 

As shown in Hamilton College’s  “Political Attitudes of Young Americans”  survey, “most young Americans believe that they and their peers would participate more in politics if candidates spoke to the issues that concerned them and if more attention was paid to politics in the schools.” 

Young voters have the power to make a difference, and research shows that despite the ideas that 18-24 year olds do not follow or are uninterested in the political world, many are politically interested but feel alienated by older politicians and their campaigns. It is clear that politicians need to address this in order to engage the younger generation, but it is wishful thinking to expect young people’s attention when we are failing to address their concerns. 

Gen-Z and the rising Gen-Alpha are the future of society and will be most affected in the long term by the decisions our political leaders make in the present. It is evident that we as a society need to reinforce the importance of voting and stress just how essential the voices of the youth are.

In the last presidential election in 2020, voter turnout as a whole increased 7% from the previous election in 2016. However, as stated by the U.S. Census Bureau, voter turnout was highest among individuals aged 65 to 74 at 76%, while the lowest percentage was among those ages 18 to 24 at 51.4% in 2020. According to New York Times writer Alexandria Symonds, there are three general patterns observed by political scientists that may be the reason for this large voting gap: habit formation, opportunity cost and alternative participation.

The first — habit formation — describes the fact that young people vote less because they haven’t had the chance to reinforce this habit. Eric Plutzer, a political scientist at Penn State University says  that with time the tide will turn. We just have to let nature and peer pressure run its course. 

Opportunity costs — obstacles such as strict work schedules, financial restrictions and a lack of time to truly research political candidates —  is a systemic issue that must be changed, both on the university level and through the general education system. The process of voting is not thoroughly taught in school, and without the guidance of a parent or guardian, much of America’s youth falls victim to the difficult learning curve. 

Finally, alternative participation has shown that it is not a lack of interest or ignorance that is causing low voter turnout in Gen-Z. As we look closer at Gen-Z’s political involvement, research has shown that 76% of the younger generation express an interest in elections, 74% care who is president, 85% have interest in public affairs and 83% intend to vote. Furthermore, according to the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, young potential voters are using “other forms of citizen activism, such as mass protests, occupy movements and increased use of social media as a new platform of political engagement.”

It’s not that we don’t care about politics and voting, it’s just that most of the time that information isn’t accessible. 

To keep students aware of upcoming elections and encourage them to vote, USC and universities across the country need to do more to promote and ease the process of voting for their students. Currently, most of the information on politics at USC is from clubs and campus organizations such as the Trojan Democrats and the USC GOP that primarily reach students who are already members of the club, thus not reaching the majority of students.  

To engage more students, the University could offer resources to educate students on the process of voting, send updates about upcoming elections over email, provide transportation to the nearest polls on election day and automatically register eligible students to vote. All of these examples would ease the process of voting and make diving into the political world as a young adult less intimidating and more attainable. 

It’s not just presidential elections though. Universities need to emphasize the impact of voting in smaller and more local elections, not just the presidential election. These less wide-scale elections regarding Congress, the Supreme Court, electing state governors, city mayors, district representatives, etc., all hold an important value and contribute to American politics as a whole. 

Voting does not have to be such a burdensome task, and as citizens of the U.S., we need to demand an easier and more accessible process from our individual communities as well as the government. Speaking of which, the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 8 California General Election is Oct. 24. So go sign up and vote!