2018 voter turnout in Orange County increased 27.7 percent from the 2014 midterm election. This is partially because of young voters, who showed up to the polls in large numbers.
Some of this turnout is owed to student activism, which had an increased presence on campus this election season.
NextGen America, a nonprofit organization which works to register thousands of voters annually, chose 41 youth-dense precincts across the country to monitor over the course of election day to gauge young voter enthusiasm. Four of those precincts were in North Carolina, and voter turnout surpassed 2014 totals at three of them.
Midterm elections usually see lower turnout than other more publicized elections, but at the NC-13 precinct on UNC-Greensboro’s campus, voter turnout increased by over 137 percent.
Bridget Killian, director of the New Voter Project for the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group, said it seemed like students were more politically engaged during this election season.
“We had a huge turnout at our early voting party at the polls," she said. "Just that, to me, showed that people were interested in getting involved, people were excited about it."
Many UNC students interviewed by the DTH said they felt that receiving information about candidates and when and where to vote helped them feel comfortable participating in the election. Several said this past election and the activism they saw accompany it made them want to involved in the political process themselves.
Andrew Robinson, a first-year biology major, said he was planning to get involved in student activism. He said that to him, that means going out in the community and trying to better it.
“Last year, I was in high school, so not a lot of people could vote anyway, but I’ve definitely noticed a lot more people in college coming out and caring about it,” he said.
Killian said NCPIRG has found events that are centered around civic engagement, such as parties at the polls, increase youth turnout and involvement. When the organization had events surrounding voting, it seemed to engage students and helped spur an increase of engagement on UNC’s campus.
“We made a really conscious effort to have those events. That’s why we had things like our big National Voter Registration Day table or had two parties at the polls this year, instead of just one,” she said. “It’s something we saw working and wanted to do more of, so we brought that into our plan for the semester.”
The youth vote was a prominent issue during the 2018 midterm election season. According to Pew Research Center, Generation X, millennials and post-millennials make up the majority of the electorate in the United States.
The generational makeup of the electorate matters because generational differences in political preferences are now as wide as they have been in decades, according to Pew. Younger voters tend to lean liberal, while older generations tend to lean conservative, so as more younger voters begin to vote, their votes will impact which party has power.
In the current political climate, partisanship is more prominent than policy, and that showed in the motivations for voting in the 2018 midterm elections that Pew Research Center compiled.
Partisan loyalty and dislike of the opposing party and its candidates were major factors for voters’ choices in the midterms. Fewer voters cited policies as the main reason why they voted for Democratic or Republican candidates.
Lindsey Klaff, a sophomore business administration and global studies major, said the goal of student activism this semester was turning out to vote and not necessarily trying to sway students’ opinions.
“I saw a lot more mobilization of the vote," she said. "I saw a lot more student groups trying to get people to be aware of who the candidates were and getting people to know when and where they could vote."
Daniel Phipps, a senior biology major, said it seemed like a lot of people, both online and on campus, were encouraging young people to vote.
“It’s a great thing when students take politics into their own hands and get the voice of the young and educated out there," Phipps said. "It’s good for young people to be involved."
Killian said NCPIRG will continue to have parties at the polls and similar events to promote civic engagement on campus because they seem to be something that a lot of students connect with and something that gets young voters excited about political participation.
“Seeing increased voter turnout makes me really hopeful because we know that our democracy works best when everyone participates,” she said. “Seeing such a monumental increase in youth voter turnout makes me hopeful that we can see an increase in people being civically engaged, politically active and really plugged in to things that are going on that are important.”
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