2020: How Young People Made Their Voice Heard

By: Christian Bailey, Class 2021

“This is the first election where I felt like everyone’s vote actually mattered.”

Dennis Trotta, a young Patterson resident, said, as he rested his gaze on the napping pitbull puppy, who’d just ruined his new bed frame. Dominique Pollard, his friend of six years, glances at the ceiling fan as it rotates in a hypnotic fashion. The two take a moment of pause before once again making eye contact, the informal invitation to resume conversation.

“I thought to myself, ‘you have to go’,” Dominique said as he boisterously emphasized his point. Dennis, now being able to fully engage his friend, nods approvingly and makes additional comments.

The 21-year old’s had just participated in their first presidential election. Neither of them, however, seem enthusiastic about the decision that they had to make.

Information gathered from CIRCLE (Center for information & research on civic learning and engagement) at Tufts University.

“I want to deal with COVID-19 and I don’t believe that the president cares,” Dominique said. The first time voter cast his ballot for Democrat Joe Biden. “I’m not excited about him, but if Trump would have been re-elected it would have been the death of us.”

Dennis agreed. “There were certainly problems with both candidates. I just hope that President-elect Biden has good intentions.”

Young voters like Dominique and Dennis are the key demographic that helped to propel President-elect Biden to victory.  According to the Center for Information and Research (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, Biden beat President Trump with young voters by a 25 point margin (61% to 36%). 

President-elect Biden performed especially well with young people of color, with 87% of black young voters, 73% of young Hispanic voters, and 83% of young Asian voters. Young white voters were more likely to support President Trump at 45%. 

Information gathered from CIRCLE (Center for information & research on civic learning and engagement) at Tufts University.

The top issues for young voters varied depending on which demographic was surveyed. According to CIRCLE, young Biden voters rated the Coronavirus as their top issue, while young Trump voters rated the economy as theirs. 

“We have to disentangle voting segments, since certain communities may be more supportive of certain things than others,” says Dr. Anna Brown, chair of the Political Science Department at Saint Peter’s University. 

Dr. Anna Brown offers context behind young voter motivations.

Dr. Brown explains her experience teaching at a diverse campus like Saint Peter’s University, where differing viewpoints constantly present themselves. “For some young people, immigration was certainly a real driver. But then, you have others who may support border security, for example.” 

One of the areas in which most of the young electorate seem to agree on is climate change. “Over half (52%) of young people said they are “very concerned” about climate change, and 78% say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned,” according to CIRCLE. 

“Young people from both parties understand how serious the threat of climate change truly is,” said Dr. Brown. 

Information gathered from CIRCLE (Center for information & research on civic learning and engagement) at Tufts University.

In addition to voting accessibility, young people were able to get involved on college campuses across the country. An example of this can be found on the Saint Peter’s campus with the Project Vote Initiative. 

Gabriella Ambroise, administrative assistant of the Political Science Department at Saint Peter’s, was instrumental in developing the program and maintaining it over the years. 

Alexandrya Lopez explains the Project Vote initiative at Saint Peter’s University.

“We began the program in order to keep people engaged, following the events of 2016,” Gabriella states. “We have voter registration drives, rock the vote parties, and we also hosted the ballot bowl this year.”

“Some people don’t understand many of the signals coming from the media and may be intimidated by the voting process,” said Alexadrya Lopez, a junior at Saint Peter’s University and Project Vote social media coordinator. “We do TikTok break down videos, Instagram posts, and we also have a Twitter.” 

Alexandrya Lopez explains how Project Vote navigated the pandemic.

Young voters were also very responsive to the nationwide protests that erupted over the killing of George Floyd. 

“In the first half of June, a month when, during an election year, voter registration normally suffers from a summer lull, more than 520,000 Democrats registered to vote,” the New York Times reports. The article continues to explain that Democratic voter registration increased by over 50% during that time. 

Young black voters were more likely to list issues of criminal justice and policing as being extremely important. 

“I think all black voters are concerned about the direction of the country, especially the black youth,” said Dr. Aiisha Harden-Russell, professor of American Politics at Saint Peter’s University. 

When asked whether the increase in young voter participation was just an anomaly, Dr. Harden Russell explains that young people have always participated in politics and were instrumental in the election of former President Obama. 

“I don’t think it’s just about Trump. Young people want to produce change in their communities and I believe that’s something that will continue for years to come.” 

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