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Wake Forest Students Cover Downtown Winston-Salem

Will the Upcoming Midterm Election Captivate Young Voters?

Sunny Sompalli, a 20-year-old Wake Forest student from Raleigh, said that he had not registered to vote in the midterm election.

“I mean to be completely honest, I wasn’t really all that engaged with this election anyway,” he said. “I’m not all that interested, I guess.”

This attitude is not uncommon among voters between the ages of 18-29, especially when it comes to midterm elections. This age-group turnout in the 2014 race was especially low. The North Carolina State Board of Elections indicates that the 2014 general election voter turnout was at 44.02 percent, while turnout for young voters was only 5.9 percent, according to an analysis by The News & Observer.

However, these past figures do not necessarily reflect the outcome of the upcoming Nov. 2 race.

“I think that [voting] is just important, we should all do it,” said 26-year-old Philip Howard, shortly after he voted early at the Forsyth County Board of Elections. “Really the biggest issue is getting out and voting regardless of opinions or anything like that. It’s just doing a civic duty.”

This sense of responsibility reflects a growing investment in politics on the part of young people following the 2016 presidential election. A poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics published April 25, 2017, indicated that 59 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 said they wanted to help unite the country, and that 74 percent of that demographic indicated that voting was the best way to enact change.

Wake Forest University Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs Michael Pisapia said that Democrats enacted legislation to initiate early voting in North Carolina, with the aim to increase the turnout of young voters.

Their efforts appear to be working. According to the News & Observer’s analysis of the first 12 days of early voting, 7.3 percent of the ballots were submitted by early voters between 18 and 25 years of age, compared to the total turnout of 5.9 percent in 2014.

“The early voting makes it easier to get to the polls,” said 22-year-old voter Pat Phillips. He said that the issues he was concerned about were “lower taxes, more jobs, and the issue with abortion.”

Pisapia said that other factors influence young voter turnout, one of the most significant of which is location. He pointed to the ongoing debate between Republicans and Democrats in the Forsyth County Board of Elections over the removal of the Anderson Center’s status as a location for early voting as an example. It became a point of contention due to its location on the campus of Winston-Salem State University, as its removal means that the school’s students must travel about 1.8 miles further for early voting, making early voting far less convenient for students.

Despite the identifiable increase in voter turnout, it remains relatively difficult to reliably predict youth voter turnout on Election Day. There has been some conflict in polls. According to a September 2018 Gallup poll, only 26 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are absolutely certain they will be voting. This is contradicted by the Harvard Institute of Politics’ October 2018 poll of American youth which indicates that 40 percent of plan on voting.

Despite the uncertain outcome of both the race and voter turnout, many young voters are ardently determined to make a difference.

“For me… [early voting is] an opportunity for my voice to be heard in a space where it needs to be heard,” said 29-year-old Winston-Salem native voter Charles Armstrong. “I didn’t want to wait until Election Day. I wanted to speak now.”

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