For college students, figuring out who to vote for in Tuesday’s primary may not be their biggest issue — it’s figuring out if they’re even going to vote at all.
Andy Benson, a freshman at Wake Forest, said he probably wasn’t going to vote on Tuesday.
“The only time I think I’m going to vote is in November,” he said.
Young voter turnout, especially in primaries, has historically been low, says John Dinan, a professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest. He says that in comparison to general elections, primaries have lower rates of turnout in general, and attract a lower share of young voters and higher share of older voters.
And Benson doesn’t think he is unlike his peers, noting that a lot of Wake Forest students seem indifferent, although there is a vocal minority who is very politically active.
One of the factors that can lead to indifference is the pressure to stay educated. For many, like Aniah McClain, a junior nursing major at Winston-Salem State University, this pressure is overwhelming. McClain noted that she doesn’t keep up with politics all that well, just because there is so much information. Instead, she says she pays attention to social media and who is endorsing who.
When asked who she’s voting for, McClain responded confidently: “Bernie — that’s it for me.”
“I’ve seen celebrities speak about him, and I haven’t seen them really talk about other candidates,” she added.
That young voters glean a lot of their information and form opinions about candidates through social media is not surprising, according to Allan Louden, a Wake Forest professor of communications who specializes in political communications and campaigns.
“Young voters are seeing a different election than most voters, as their election is the steady stream of social media — Instagram, Twitter — and all its play-by-play details, constant in real-time,” said Louden.
In this way, young voters are more informed about the nuance of elections than older generations, he believes.
Some students say their sense of indifference and apathy comes from a feeling that their vote doesn’t really matter. Referencing how Trump was elected in 2016, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, McClain said that the system of the electoral college can be a turnoff to students.
“They feel like their votes don’t count,” she said.
Amanda Wilcox, a senior economics major at Wake Forest, mailed her absentee ballot earlier this week back home to Virginia, another Super Tuesday state.
Wilcox took a lot of care when deciding who to vote for, as she wanted a candidate who aligned with her own beliefs, who would be electable, and who would show competence in their presidency. After a lot of consternation, she cast her ballot for Elizabeth Warren. But she thinks that she represents the minority on campus, that most other Wake Forest students are not taking the same care with their votes, if they’re even voting at all.
“The majority are disconnected from the process, which stems from privilege, and some may genuinely not know who to vote for,” she said.
On Tuesday, Louden expects that young voter turnout will be the same as it usually is in primaries, even though youth political participation may be on the rise with a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who is proving popular with young voters.
“It’s about proportionality,” Louden said.
Will the increased participation of youth voters, like in the case of Sanders, outweigh the other groups that have consistently taken part in primary elections?
“Unlikely,” he said.