Millennials Have the Power if We Choose to Use It
“I was too busy, I feel like voting starts after college.” – Colton Fraiser ‘15
“I’m out of the loop. I wish I could be better.” – Emma Petracca ‘18
“I didn’t know it was Election Day until the day of and I still don’t know who the candidates are.” – Dennis Sullivan ‘15
“I didn’t know anything about anything so I didn’t feel like I should vote.” – Abigail Rajotte ‘16
Whoever I chose wouldn’t make a difference anyway.” – Nate Goyette ‘15
“I didn’t know how.” – Michaela Horne ‘17
Do any of those answers sound like you?
With the lowest voter turnout since 1942 only 36.4% of voters cast ballots for the 2014 Midterm Elections.
Specifically, only 13% of voters were under 30.
By 2015, millennials (people ages 18-29) will make up a third of voters, and will be the largest and most racially diverse generation in the country’s history: but we don’t think our vote matters.
The big question is, why didn’t we vote?
Many credit the lack of college students voting to the fact that students go away to school.
Half of the respondents to a Harvard University Institute of Politics Survey said they did not see any information about voter registration materials at their workplace, school, or in their community.
“It wasn’t easy to vote,” said St. Michael’s student Tommy Friedman ’16. “I had to go get an absentee ballot because I wasn’t going to drive home. I think that’s why college students don’t vote. They’re lazy and are stressed with everything else going on.”
Midterms are also not national elections like the presidential elections; instead, they elect state senators, representatives and governors. Historically, college students do not turn out for midterm elections.
According to Political Science Professor Bill Grover, college students are notoriously ‘low turn out people’ when it comes to midterm elections.
“College students only get energized by the national presidential race. That’s a traditional characteristic of the 18 to 24-year-olds,” Grover said.
The results of the midterm elections gave Republicans control of Congress: 56% of the House of Representatives and 53% of the Senate are now Republican seats. Across the country, 31 Republican governors were elected this year.
Generally speaking, especially here in Burlington, Vt., most college students vote democratically. With a Republican controlled Congress, it will be harder for the Democratic Party to pass measures many college students sympathize with.
But it is not unusual for the opposite party to win control of Congress halfway through a president’s term. Often, if things are not going the way the public thinks they should be, they vote for the opposite party.
“Two things really worked in favor of the Republicans, one is low turnout, and the other is a climate of fear; fear of Ebola, the Islamic State and the threat of terrorism. People feel insecure, so they’re going to vote against the guy in the white house,” said Grover.
However, not all St. Michael’s students are the far left liberal democrats people may think. Aubrey Ouellet ’15 is a registered Republican from New Hampshire who voted in the midterm elections.
“New Hampshire was a swing state and the senate seat was one of the deciding factors in terms of a Republican majority. It’s kind of sad that we’re so isolated at college that we don’t really know what’s going on in even our own elections, our own government.”
In Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll, it was reported that the top issues facing 18 to 24 year olds in the United States were the economy (23%) and education (20%). The largest financial obligation facing that demographic was student loans (54%).
With the Republican Party in control of Congress, a variety of education proposals and acts may not pass, and other federal education programs may be affected.
Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is poised to become the chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and may aim to deregulate higher education in many areas according to the International Business Times.
One area that is well known to many college students that may be affected is the 108-question FAFSA form all students must fill out in order to receive federal aid. The HELP committee aims to reduce the form to a simple two-question form: ‘what is your family income’ and ‘what is your family size.’
This may be encouraging to students, as two questions take much less time to answer than over 100, but at the same time may not provide adequate aid as it does not form a whole picture of a student’s financial situation.
In addition, there is a proposed $90 billion worth of cuts to the Pell Grant program over the span of 10 years, a form of federal aid for low-income students.
Lastly, there is a current proposal in the senate aiming to allow borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates has already twice failed to win enough votes, and is unlikely to be a focus in republican controlled Congress.
This is the main difference between the democratic and the republican standpoints on education.
Simply put, republicans believe that the federal government should not give out aid, but should promote private loans whereas democrats believe the federal government should offer more money and grants to students.
The proposed Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (HERO) would allow states more flexibility to accredit educational programs, such as apprenticeships and vocational training, which would allow those students to be eligible for federal student aid.
But it’s not to say that college students are uninvolved. According to the Harvard Poll, 42% of students believe that volunteerism is the way to fix important issues facing the country; whereas only 18% responded that political engagement was the way.
This reflects the St. Michael’s atmosphere where nearly 70% of students will have participated in a MOVE program by graduation.
Looking forward, 2016 will be an interesting year.
Not only is it a presidential election year, but 34 of the 100 senate seats will be up for election and all 435 seats of the house will be contested.
“I think your generation will be very excited if Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., makes a serious run at Hillary Clinton, and I think your generation will be very excited by Hillary herself as a serious female candidate,” said Grover.
Other possible candidates to watch out for at the presidential polls are Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and former governor Jeb Bush, R-Fla.
Hope to see you there.
This article was originally published in the Saint Michael’s College award-winning newspaper, The Defender, in the Fall of 2014.