November 6th, 2018
It was noon at Mary G. Fritz Elementary School in Wallingford, Connecticut, and yet there were no children in sight. An older man with a long, straggly, greying beard stood outside the entrance in the pouring rain, dealing candidate pamphlets to people coming to vote. “Vote Democrat for Dan Fontaine,” he said. As the bearded man approached a middle-aged couple with his canned speech, the husband informed the man that he would not be voting Democrat anymore, “because of the whole Kavanaugh thing.” His wife agreed with a head nod. At the school entrance a herd of seniors citizens struggled to make it through the width of the front door with their bulky walkers and wheelchairs.
Inside the school was dark, except for the hallway leading to the gymnasium, which was lit with florescent lights to guide folks to the polls. When I got to the back of the line, the median voting age at the Mary Fritz polling site seemed to have fallen about five years. One woman’s glasses framed her crow’s-feet and her husband’s MAGA hat hugged his balding head, as he guided her whenever the line moved forward. Business men with frustrated faces waited impatiently, their tired worn out suits drenched in rain. Parents struggling to exercise their right to vote while managing their whining kids.
These older Americans are a reliable voting demographic. According to data collected by Knock the Vote, more than 60 percent of seniors are consistent voters, compared to less than 15 percent of young adults, making them the bedrock of the American electorate. Most are retired, which allows them more time to get to the voting booths.
Being a college student at the polls on Election day was intimidating. I was uncomfortably fenced in by MAGA logos and Republican decals. Age was not the only thing that set me apart from them. Like many young adults, I was voting on issues that revolve around building a life and entering the workforce, while much of the older generation was voting for issues that pertain to individuals who have exited the workforce and are now in retirement.
Finally, making it to the front of the line, I handed over my I.D. to the eager woman working the check-in table. Her brown eyes glanced down at my license and peeked back up at me, doing a double take like a bouncer at a club debating whether or not the I.D. was fake. She approved and sent me over to the polling booth.
Searching for an open booth, I walked to the last row. I put my ballot down on the enclosed desk, picked up the black pen, and filled in my votes. The ballot reminded me of the SAT’s, having to fill in the bubbles for your answer, hoping I colored it in enough to get counted in the scantron. My pen shifted across the Democratic row, making a sequential ballot.
My Democratic vote was one of many for my age group. A preliminary national exit poll by CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, found that 67 percent of youth cast their ballot for a Democratic House candidate, while 32 percent chose a Republican House candidate. Among young people of color, the support for Democratic candidates was even higher – 92 percent among African-American, and 80 percent among Latinos.
I confidently slid my finished ballot into the machine guarded by a pleasant older man sitting in a metal folding chair. He smiled at me as his wrinkled face stretched. He rewarded me for my vote with an “I Voted” sticker, a badge of pride.
That afternoon, as I scrolled through my phone, my timeline became chock-full of “I Voted” sticker selfies. Seeing other students post the patriotic decal, eased my worry that the MAGA hats might gain control of Connecticut this election.
A few days later, news headlines reported, “Youth turnout could hit a historic high in the 2018 Midterm Election.” Youth voter turnout has historically been dismal for midterm elections. Young adults are becoming more active in politics after the Presidential election in 2016. All over the country, young adults want change. Adam, a twenty-three-year-old college graduate is confident. “It’s our generation that matters. We are America’s only hope and we must go out and vote for the sake of our future.”
Growing up in an era when the government is so paralyzed, it’s impossible not to get involved. Young voters account for almost half of the voting population, which is a tremendous opportunity for young adults to influence issues that affect our lives for years to come.
Students at Central Connecticut State University believe their right to vote is an opportunity to affect change. A poll I posted on Facebook showed that out of 106 students, 83 percent voted on election day. Comments posted by the respondents indicated that many students favored Ned Lamont’s proposal to fund higher education to make our school more affordable. Although this is not a representative sample, it reflects the rising feeling of participation at CCSU. In 2014, voters under 30 made up just 13 percent of the midterm electorate, according to NBC News exit polls. In 2010, voters under 30 made up 12 percent of the electorate. Those numbers indicated that turnout among young people this year could have been low, but millennials stepped up this midterm election. Amanda, a determined student at CCSU said, “I voted for Lamont because of his promise to make state colleges more affordable, and knowing he used to work here at Central is comforting because he has seen the reality of what students go through financially.”
Politics are becoming more personal for college students. Many, or almost all, have to face the difficulties of finding a good job, dealing with student debt and the cost of living in general. College debt and the lack of jobs has created crippling setbacks to the financial futures of many young voters.
“Back when I was your age, I never had to worry about student debt or money in general,” my mother said at the dinner table. “I feel so bad for you kids. My only worry in college was to study, and that was it.”
According to the Pew Research Center, there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone. The average student in the class of 2016 has $37,172 in student loan debt. Now, students are trapped in a serious student loan debt crisis. Six months after graduation, most students first bill arrives in the mail for their loans. Jayde, a college graduate from the class of 2016, talks about her struggle with paying off loans. “It’s hard to establish yourself when you’re paying off loans. I’m twenty-four-years-old still living with my parents because my student loans basically are the cost of rent each month.” Her student loans cost seven hundred a month, taking nearly half of her monthly paycheck. Though a college degree is necessary for most students to get a well-paying job, after leaving school they are left with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades.
This is why many students support politicians like Bernie Sanders because of their proposals like Medicare for All, a jobs guarantee bill, and an elimination of tuition and fees at public universities.
In CT, adults under the age of twenty-six are offered healthcare coverage by the Afforable Care Act, but once they turn twenty-six you are no longer eligible for this plan. Afterward, it is difficult to find an affordable healthcare plan. “I make too much money to be under Medicaid, yet I don’t make enough to afford healthcare.” CCSU student, Hannah explains about her struggle with finding affordable healthcare, which was a primary motivation for voting in the midterm election, just like many other students.
Today’s students are burdened with responsibilities that are almost unmanageable. Debt forgiveness and healthcare are issues that drive young adults to participate in politics. The distinction between older voters and young adult voters has become a battle between the two parties. As young adults are just beginning their journey into the economy older voters are leaving the economy. Millennials have the power to make change, and the millennial electorate is expected to be the first demographic group with the ability to break the basic two-party system. The government will never meet our long-term needs if our voices aren’t heard. For young adults, politics are personal.
Headline photo courtesy of Adam Scotti.