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As the 2016 Presidential primary contests pick up speed and head into the Massachusetts Primary on March 1, Donald Trump’s unexpected strength through four early contests isn’t the only factor making news this campaign season: Young voters (ages 18-29) have been turning out in record numbers and making a decisive statement about their engagement in national politics.
Campaigns that are overlooking the youth vote in favor of older, more traditional voters, may be doing so at their own demise.
College of the Fenway (COF) students appear ready to follow that trend as they get set to make their choices in the Republican and Democratic Presidential Primary on Tuesday. Surveys conducted by Emmanuel College Communications students over the past two weeks found that of those interviewed by students, the vast majority reported that they are registered and ready to vote.
Most students said they were planning on voting Democratic and were leaning toward Bernie Sanders, finding his “Revolution” campaign more appealing and straightforward than the campaign being waged by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I know now more than ever that I want to vote for Bernie Sanders,” said Stephanie Reed, Emmanuel College ’17.
Fellow student Ian Chemenko ’17, also a Sanders supporter, said he found the Vermont Senator refreshingly unpolitical. “It’s easier for young people to be optimistic about stuff…I feel like a lot of politicians change their platform so they can get into office and who is funding your campaign, funding equals influence.”
According to the Tufts University Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), young voters, particularly in early Republican contests, are not just turning out in record numbers but are shattering those records. The turnout for the Nevada caucuses among Republican youth was double the turnout of 2012. That pattern began in Iowa and continued through New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“People always think that young voters are progressive or will vote as Democrats, but this primary and caucus season is showing that young people are turning out and voting for Republican candidates in larger numbers than they have in the last three two to three elections cycles,” says Felicia M. Sullivan, PhD, and the senior researcher at CIRCLE. “We always want to emphasize that young people today are a large and complex group and no single moniker fits them. We have to look deeper and ask more complex questions about them if we really want to know what is going on,” she said.
What appears to be driving turnout on both sides of the political aisle are the upstart campaigns by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are attracting new or disenfranchised voters who have sat out past elections.
Whether that enthusiasm for the primary season will surface on Tuesday in Massachusetts remains to be seen as the Bay State historically has a minor role in the outcome of national elections. Most eyes nationally will be focused on Tuesday on some of the more delegate-rich states like Texas that could either cement Trump’s march to the nomination or breathe life back into the Ted Cruz campaign that has sputtered through the early contests.
Many young voters interviewed around the Fenway say they may have to hold their nose as they vote because they don’t like any of the candidates particularly. “What it is going to come down to, is picking the best of the worst,” Anna Sawan ’17.
Young voters interviewed listed several key issues that they are paying attention to including the wage gap, global warming, education, and racism. The issues they care most about draw them to candidates.
Ana Azvedo ’17 states that “no one’s talking about racism except Bernie,” earning him her support.
When asked what issues were most important to them as an individual the answers varied from education (which was the highest with 30 percent), to immigration and tax reform which both gathered 20 percent. Only 76 percent believed the candidates were speaking to the issue(s) they wanted. Others felt that the issues they wanted to discuss were not, such issues as inequality, institutionalized racism, domestic terrorism, wealth inequality, and social welfare reform.
Following the February 9 New Hampshire primary, the level of interest in the election seems to have gone up among college-aged students interviewed.
“I’m from New Hampshire and a lot of my friends here, in Massachusetts, were excited to go home to New Hampshire to vote, and excited that their vote made a difference,” said Taylor Ribaudo ’17.
The results of both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary have excited students and shown them that their votes really matter. Andrew Dion ’17 feels that his “role as a voter is more important and pivotal.” Andrew is certainly not wrong, and all college students should be sure to vote.
The Massachusetts primary will occur on Super Tuesday on March 1. If you’re from another state and will be submitting an absentee ballot, you can find a primary calendar here.
This article is a collaborative effort by the Emmanuel College students in ENG 3501. Special thanks to Honora Clemmey ’16, Ashleigh Derosa ’16 and Liz Staal ’16 for putting this together.