OPINION: Why young people should vote

Photo by WHAS 11.

Photo by WHAS 11.

Haeli Spears

Though young people often possess passionate views about social and political issues, in the United States, they consistently have the lowest voter participation rate across all age groups. For many years, voter turnout among young Americans has been substantially lower than that of older Americans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people aged 18-24 have the lowest voter turnout rate of any other age demographic, with more than half of eligible voters in this age group opting not to vote at all. As a result, the often fervid views of young Americans are not particularly well-represented by the political system.

What accounts for this disparity? There are a few likely suspects. One of the most common is the perception that voting is inevitably a choice between the “lesser of two evils.” While some Americans may feel that the choice not to participate is a bold and progressive statement condemning the political status quo, it’s actually quite damaging and has the opposite effect–entrenching incumbents and being generally indistinguishable from other forms of apathy. The opinion of younger generations, who will soon be managing our government, matter equally as much as the opinions of older generations who will soon be gone.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center indicated that 70% of millennials support same-sex marriage, compared to only 55% of baby boomers. In a separate study, it was revealed that 68% of millennials support the legalization of marijuana, while 50% of baby boomers oppose. It is evident that there are fundamental disparities between the beliefs of younger and older generations. Younger generations are choosing to sit out as their older counterparts–who have consistently high voter turnouts–make political decisions for them in a world in which they will soon not exist.

This is especially relevant this year in Kentucky, given November’s low-publicity gubernatorial (governor’s) election. The discussion surrounding candidates Jack Conway (D), Matt Bevin (R) and Drew Curtis (I) this election cycle has been minimal, and many high school seniors don’t even know that they’ll be eligible to vote. Gubernatorial elections attract substantially less press than their presidential counterparts, but they have far greater effects on our lives. Every eligible young person should vote in the gubernatorial election and educate themselves about the candidates before doing so.

If younger voters choose to abstain, they end up sustaining, rather than protesting, the current lopsided political system. As a result, elections often fail to convey the true wants and needs of the American population as a whole. In a vicious, self-fulfilling prophecy, the domination of older adults in the political process only further disengages the young.

Obviously, the expansion of millennial participation in the electoral process will not necessarily make future governance wiser or more effective, but it will create a government that respects the interests of a wider population, as well as a government that is decided upon by those who are most affected by new legislation. So, instead of actively deciding to disengage from the electoral process in this next election, cast your ballot and help to create a government that has our best interests at heart, rather than letting pressing issues be decided on by older generations. Next election, make your opinion heard.