Young voters could tip the balance in U.S. midterm elections
MADISON, Wis. — The young woman dressed in a bright yellow banana costume just won’t take no for an answer.
“Did you know you can vote today?” she asks each student who walks by on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She hands out flyers with information on dates and locations for early voting, before repeating the pitch to the next person. She runs after the ones who won’t stop to chat.
“Students really do care, but they’re not reached out to,” explained Nada Elmikashfi, who helped organize this eye-catching, get-out-the-vote event. “On November 6 [politicians] will realize how important we are and have always been,” she said.
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Elmikashfi works with NextGen America, an organization founded by Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer.
NextGen is one of several groups working to mobilize and register young voters, especially first-time ones.
That’s because the 2018 midterm elections mark a demographic turning point in American history: for the first time, millennials will surpass baby boomers as the largest generation eligible to vote. Eight million young people who were not old enough to vote when Donald Trump was elected, can now legally cast a ballot.
Wisconsin is one of the states where people under age 35 could make all the difference in tight races. The margins here are so close that Trump only won by 22,177 votes in 2016.
“They could be the factor that ends up tipping the election,” explained Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The problem is that young voters have a miserable track record of actually showing up at the ballot box, especially during midterm elections. “In 2014 it was extremely low, less than 1 in 5,” said Burden.
But that could all change in 2018. In some states, youth voter registration has reached levels only seen during presidential campaigns.
Historically, young people tend to vote for Democrats, and the push to engage them has largely been led from the left.
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The February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., touched off a national movement of students who wanted to end gun violence. That was followed by the March for Our Lives, which focused on turning words into action, by registering young voters.
“Since then another couple dozen issues have gotten in the way,” said Burden, when asked if gun violence was still a top issue. “But overall I think we’ll see levels of participation rise with young people.”
On the campus of UW-Madison, students seemed eager to exercise their rights.
“I just turned 18 so I was super excited to be able to vote,” said student Sophie Yarosh.
“This is not a timid time in our politics, it’s an important fast-paced time, so I think a lot of people will participate,” said student Nehemiah Siyoum.
“Brett Kavanaugh and the Parkland shooting, have shown us what’s at stake in this country,” said NextGen’s Elmikashfi. “We’re the ones growing up in it so that has motivated everyone to get out and vote.”
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