First-time voters share their views in our search for a Citizens’ Agenda
By Maeve Corrigan, Montana Farner, Mirlie LaRose, Ryan O’Brien, Molly Nesselrodt, Matthew Philp, Matthew Poust, Griffin Rissinger, Gretchen Stenger and Shana Wetzel
In August, we set out on a mission to learn what matters to young voters with the Young Voters Project. Instead of covering who is winning or losing the presidential race, we wanted to focus our attention on the American people and specifically young people. We set out to learn what issues these voters value and what they would like to see improved in the future for the country.
Over the course of many discussions/conversations, there were some commonalities amongst the volunteers on what young people find important. Some of the issues that were more prevalent and kept coming up include police reform, problems with the two-party system, immigration policy, and the necessities of government to protect its citizens vs. limiting the government’s control. We also tried to gauge if the participants felt optimistic or pessimistic about the future of our country.
The young voter tended to agree more often than not. We really strived to have the participants bring up the issues on their own, and most times when an issue was brought up, the others would generally agree and add on. We also looked at the participants’ upbringing and background, and how this affected their political opinions. Though there was a large array of backgrounds, the young voters still shared a similar view on most topics brought up. The voter’s views on the issues most commonly brought up tended to be more progressive quite often.
In 2016, 61.4% of the voting-age population reported voting in the election.
Young Americans (18-29) are historically the worst age group to turn out for presidential elections. In 2016, there was just a 46% turnout compared to the 65+ age group, which reported a 70% turnout.
Young adults’ interest in the 2020 election, however, is at high levels according to Gallup.com. Four out of five young people (18-29) say the coronavirus has helped them realize how much politics affects their everyday lives.
WHO WE SPOKE WITH:
The members of the workshop were able to meet with 26 students through five different discussion groups. An email was sent to the student body at Bloomsburg University detailing the YVVP and outlining how the discussions would take place. Interested parties were told to contact one student from the workshop. Students were also recruited through the campus learning communities and particular classes that offered incentives. They were then sent a Google Form to fill out detailing what days and times they were available to meet.
We held several Zoom meetings over the course of a few weeks to have a conversation with four to six students at a time. The Zooms would last about an hour, and about three students from the class would ask the participants broad questions to see what topics they wanted to talk about. The participants were passionate about several topics due to the areas they grew up in and the things they have experienced during their lives.
The participants’ backgrounds were varied, but all are students at Bloomsburg University. Most were raised in middle-class families. Many mentioned how their parents’ political views influenced their own. Several live/lived in predominantly white areas, and few participants stated that they lived in diverse areas. One participant is a DACA recipient and an immigrant, another is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic.
One significant theme that emerged from the discussions was the agreement that the two-party system is harmful to democracy. There was an emphasis on the country feeling divided or split between Democrats and Republicans. Some participants stated the opinion that the country will not be able to continue in this way much longer. One mentioned that the current system is not designed well and will not lead to any prosperous results.
Another popular theme shared in the group discussions was the belief that there are several issues with the U.S. immigration system. Multiple participants mentioned issues with the immigration process for immigrants entering the United States, saying that our system has too much control over immigrants. Others also expressed the belief that too much blame is placed on immigrants in the United States, and that the United States system is often abusive to its immigrants.
Three of our participants for this project come from immigrant families, with two of them making the immigration transition in their own lifetimes. Each of these participants explained that there is too much discrimination in this country, and that immigrants need to be treated better. One expressed that our country may need a different president to represent that message, and that everyone who can vote should vote, for those who don’t have a voice.
Another common theme among the young voters on America’s future generally swayed in the direction of pessimism. With the Democratic and Republican parties being so separated, it is hard to be optimistic about the future if this issue doesn’t get resolved. The current system used in America is not designed to prosper. Both parties are too busy working on their own agendas rather than focusing on society’s agenda. One young voter said, “The future of America lays directly in the hands of the next election. If Trump wins, we will continue to go down a spiral we are already on. But if Biden wins, he may be able to dig the country out of the spiral it’s already in.”
The last prominent theme that the young voters spoke about is limited government vs. the need for government to protect the environment. A lot of the young voters mentioned how we, as people, are controlled too much by the government. They also mentioned that even though we are controlled, the government does not really look out for us. One young voter said, “The government cares more about saving big corporations than it does about taking care of its people.” They believe that for the amount of power the government has over us, there is a lack of empathy.
While the participants do not want the government to have too much control over us, they also want the government to acknowledge what is happening to the environment. The young voters believe that environmental issues such as global warming should be taken more seriously by the government. A lot of officials, including the president, do not believe that global warming is real. One voter mentioned a video that she watched of Donald Trump talk about global warming and how he did not think that it was an issue. This video raised concern for her.
The overall opinion from the young voters is that it’s hard to have long term optimism in a country filled with short-term pessimism. The younger generation seems to be more forward-thinking and eager to be able to fill the shoes of the leader right now. But until then, young voters seem to lean to a more pessimistic view when regarding America’s future in the upcoming years.
Through the plethora of meetings and interviews conducted, these young voters voiced specific issues that hold importance to each one of them respectively. Many of these opinions held by these young voters are issues they believe the media should be covering during this presidential election and forward.
Some of the most important issues students would like to be dealt with more regularly often deal with reform to the democratic system as a whole. They would also like to see the reform of our prison system and our immigration system. Another major issue the media should highlight, based on student responses, is police brutality and racial injustice. Another issue related to the latter that should be covered according to young voters is firearm reform. Students also often voiced an issue with the two-party system, as they often called it. It seems these young voters would like to see more coverage of less Republican and Democratic candidates.
Although these interviews with young voters were filled with diverse backgrounds and upbringings, often common ground was found between them. The voters themselves hold passionate opinions ranging from left to right, but what makes their opinions so strong is their desire to see media cover the political landscape in a fair, unbiased, and factual way. These issues will not go away after the election, which is why these issues play a big part in the election this year. If these issues are not resolved, they will continue to affect America.