Candidates for the upcoming presidential election have begun to capture the attention of Americans – those eager to usher Donald Trump out of office and those poised to re-elect him. On cable news, Twitter, and political podcasts, a storm of opinions is already brewing over the contentious race. As we look to the next two years, questions, big and small, will continue to swirl. Who will Democrats nominate? Will a Republican challenge Trump? What should a post-Trump America look like? How will this race define our future?
Now, more than ever, young people should be asking themselves these questions. With many of us coming of age as the elections roll around, we have a new civic responsibility to consider: the vote.
Speaking to people who will turn 18 before November 2020, there seemed to be a common thread across multiple ideological groups — the intent to vote, responsibly and carefully. Quinton Durer, a moderate conservative from Missouri, says that he believes voting is his responsibility: “If I don’t use my power to help put a stop to terrible atrocities happening in the world, I am a bystander letting them happen,” he says.
More liberal voices agreed, noting that voting is an essential part of a functioning democracy. Sevana Wenn, from La Cañada, California, thinks squandering her vote would be a mistake: “If you don’t actively participate in elections,” she says, “you have no right to complain about what happens in this country.”
Priyasha Bose, an Ohioan who identifies with moderate liberalism, believes that the youth voice is especially necessary for today’s politics. She says her choice to vote rests on the importance of including our generation in the decisions facing America: “I’m excited to be one step closer to having my ideas heard. Voting is a right of voice, and I want to fight for what I believe is best for the country.”
Many young people seem excited to exercise their right— but who will they vote for and when?
Harshith Ambati from Ohio tends to lean liberal and says he wants to vote both in the primary and the general election. However, he doesn’t know who to keep an eye out for just yet: “As of now, I’m not judging any candidates.”
Some voters are hesitant to favor parties or candidates this far out from election day. Brennan Davis, from Cincinnati, Ohio, says that voting along party lines doesn’t appeal to him, even though he tends to lean conservative: “People need to vote for who they want,” he says, “not for whom the party wants. I will vote for the candidate who I think is best for our country.”
Andris Zonies, left-leaning Missourian, is still yet unsure about voting in the Democratic primary. He thinks that Democrats should nominate a strong candidate who will “swing control away from the Donald Trump minority.” “But at this point,” he adds, “I’m not sure who will do that.”
Although young people may be hesitant to choose a favorite candidate just yet, they have a strong sense of the qualities they seek in a president.
“At the very minimum, we need a presidential candidate who people feel comfortable voting for,” says Dalton Hartsfield, from St. Louis, MO. As someone who favors progressives, he sees 2020 as the opportunity to present and discuss fresh, ambitious policies. That’s why, he says, “I would love to leave out any major controversial behavior. I don’t want this election to be crisis management.”
Sevana also prefers the idea of a clean, presidential image: “He or she should be charismatic, possess strong leadership skills, and be able to connect with younger voters.”
She feels, however, that America needs someone who doesn’t shake up the political landscape too much: “I haven’t liked the Trump administration at all, but I don’t think America’s ready for a radical change.”
Dalton disagrees with a moderate approach, citing a problem with Democratic candidates like Harris, Booker, Gabbard, and O’Rourke, whom he says “hold a moderate track record and are suddenly claiming to be among the progressives.” He views his 2020 vote as a chance to support a progressive platform from an authentic candidate.
Brennan and Quinton seem to focus more on how each individual’s policies and positions align with their specific beliefs.
Quinton says he’s looking for a candidate who agrees with his ideas of the sanctity of life and his Catholic values. Brennan prizes the “individual choice for each citizen” and plans to examine the candidates closely further down the line.
Whether or not they have an ideal set of presidential qualities in mind, some young people seem to share a sense of apprehension about their peers voting in the post-Trump era. Many felt their view of the political process shift drastically in 2016. They want to make sure that new voters like themselves are enthusiastic and educated about the implications of their votes—or lack thereof.
Katie Tanner, who lives in Atlanta, GA and identifies as moderately conservative, thinks that voting is an important choice for 18-year-olds but that we should take caution: “Frankly, most young people are not as politically educated as they should be. I think we should be very careful before casting a ballot.” She says that bandwagoning could become a problem.
Priyasha, on the other side of the political spectrum, feels much the same way: “I’ll push for everyone to educate themselves and vote, but I wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t know the difference between candidates voting for something they’re not educated on.”
Harshith said that young voters should “always do their research beforehand. No one should vote just for the sake of it.”
Some feel that all 18-year-olds must vote as their constitutional duty.
Brennan and Dalton agree that every young person should cast his or her vote.
“You become an adult at 18 years old in this nation. As an adult, you have a responsibility to your nation,” Brennan says.
Dalton says that an even better system would be to automatically register all legal adults to vote, to make sure that young people can more easily “have their voices be heard.”
Others spoke to the power of this youth voice.
Andris noted that younger generations are “historically a force for change in government.” He believes that they have the power to really change the nation.
Quinton agrees: “We are a very big group of people, and therefore, we have a lot of influence. We have a responsibility to protect our future.”
Priyasha says she understands the force that young people could contribute toward that future.
“Times are changing rapidly,” she says. “The younger generations will allow for the faster initiation of long-awaited change and benefits. It’s time for new perspectives to take the stage. It will be refreshing to open up political decisions to a newer pool of voters.”
Across ideologies, we as young people are coming of age as new voters, looking at 2020 as our first chance to cast a ballot. Early on in this race, we are contemplating our civic responsibility and are looking to impact our communities and our country with the vote.
This generation of new voters grew up with the Obama administration and watched as the Oval Office flipped on its head in 2016. We grew up with the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Parkland shooting, and the Flint water crisis. We have a unique perspective on how America has grown and changed over the past two decades, just as we too have grown and changed. We have the right and the ability to observe our environment, evaluate our beliefs, and take action. As the race heats up, we must pay attention. With the vote, the power for change will soon be in our hands.
Image Credits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrLfcMjrWgc