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What comes next? UNC students look to the future of state and national politics

voter registration
Ricky Leung (left) asks UNC student Samantha Mndello (right) to register to vote for the 2018 election in the Pit on Monday, Sept. 24.

Almost a month after the 2018 election, politically active students are already looking forward to what policy they would like to see passed over the next two years and have their sights set on next year's local election.

Alana Edwards, president of UNC Young Democrats, said 2018 was an important election for youth turnout.

“I think we saw nationwide and in North Carolina vastly increased youth turnout, and a lot of what we saw in 2018 was related to youth activism growing in general, especially around gun violence,” Edwards said. “Young people were excited and mobilized in a way they weren’t before.”

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimated 31percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 29 voted in 2018, compared to 21 percent in 2014.

Edwards said the next couple of years are important for continuing that mobilization and activity.

“Since this is an off election year and things like town council and soil and water, I don't think we’ll see the same turnout in 2019 that we did in 2018, but hopefully the trend of mobilization and activism will continue,” she said.

Cody Johnson, a member of the executive board of UNC College Republicans, said youth had a huge impact on the 2018 election.

“I think that’s a good thing overall,” Johnson said. “They didn’t always vote Republican I’d say, but it’s definitely good having lots of people voting.”

Johnson said UNC College Republicans was also very vocal and active leading up to the election. Johnson knocked on doors for a few campaigns and worked at polling places for early voting.

“We wanted to show that the Republican Party is not just the party of old people, but that there is a growing youth movement within the Republican Party,” he said. “We wanted to combat that narrative of the GOP being the party of old rich people because it’s not always true.”

2019 may be a rebuilding year for on-campus political groups, Edwards said. With no national election, groups sometimes lose members or motivation. Edwards wants to avoid this during her term.

“One thing we’re planning in 2019 is to be very vocal on state and local issues, especially when Medicaid expansion comes up,” she said. “That’s one area where we’re really excited to rally, call our representatives, make our voices heard and show campus and the state what a big issue this is.”

Johnson said he thinks the number of young and college-aged people in the Republican Party will continue to grow in the next few years. 

“Maybe it’s not going to be traditional Reagan-type Republicans, but I think a lot of people are starting to see the light that there’s issues with both parties,” Johnson said. “But on the other side, (Democrats) are going further and further left everyday, so you have to look at who is more moderate.”

As for 2020, Johnson said College Republicans will not take a side in any potential Republican primary.

“We want to be as inclusive as possible within the conservative movement, and we don’t want to make someone who doesn’t like Trump to feel unwelcome,” he said. “We want to take back the (U.S.) House, expand the lead in the (U.S.) Senate and we want Trump to win re-election if he is the candidate. If not, we want the Republican nominee to win.”

Katie Leonard, vice president of UNC Young Democrats, said college organizations that focus on politics are grassroots organizing at its finest. Leonard said voting is the first step, but moving on to registering others to vote, volunteering for campaigns and participating in activism is also important.

“People really care about these issues,” Leonard said. “Those are tools that can give students the voice and also the organization skills to really make an impact.”


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