Northwestern students credit social media, Trump opposition for national increase in youth voter turnout


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

A young voter puts on an election day sticker. Young people turned out in large numbers this year, partially due to Get Out the Vote efforts on social media.

Suzy Vazquez, Reporter

Voter turnout among young people surged this midterm election, which Northwestern students attribute to get out the vote efforts permeating pop culture through social media, the March For Our Lives movement and what many are describing as referendum against the Trump administration.

According to TargetSmart, a political data analysis firm, early voting among 18- to 29-year-olds escalated with a 188 percent increase from 2014. States with particularly close races had an even more intense increase in youth voters in comparison to the 2014 election, with a fivefold increase in states like Texas and Nevada.

Northwestern College Democrats along with NU Votes, Associated Student Government, Northwestern Political Union and Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement hosted an election night watch party at Harris Hall on Tuesday night.

Co-president of Northwestern College Democrats Claire Bugos, who attended the event,said a lot of the issues that are prominent this election season are ones that affect young people or will in the near future.

Throughout the past two years, Bugos said, she’s seen a lot of youth activism take place in the United States, especially after the Parkland shooting last February.

“The Marjory Stoneman Douglas students led a revolt against the gun laws we have in this country,” Bugos said. “I think that we’ve seen those pockets of youth discontent throughout the presidency. Young people see the midterms as a way to easily have a say in their government, and they’re taking advantage of that.”

Bugos added that young people feel more personally impacted by what their health care is going to look like, about what jobs they’re going to have as well as the state of their education and gun control.

Weinberg junior Jennifer Slota, co-president of Northwestern College Democrats, said Democrats are looking for encouragement in this election. If certain results don’t come to fruition — whether it be important governor races flipping or the flipping of the House — it might have been discouraging to people who were motivated to go out and vote for the first time.

“I hope this election shows people that your votes do matter in these big ways, and I think this Trump presidency is something we can take advantage of and use as a force to swing the pendulum in our direction and show people that their involvement matters,” she said.

Leading up to the election, social media was flooded with celebrities sporting their “I voted” stickers and encouraging citizens to do the same. Taylor Swift urged her 112 million followers on Instagram to register and make their voices heard this election — 24 hours after Swift posted, 64,000 new people registered to vote across the country, CNN reported. Within 48 hours, 212,871 had registered, and half were between the ages of 18 and 29, according to Slate.

Medill Junior Leanna Rice, who voted for Democrat and Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker in the Illinois gubernatorial race, said she was motivated to vote by social media posts stressing the importance of the act. Rice said that she felt there were slight aspects of peer pressure, but that this led to people feeling more responsibility to play a part in the midterms.

“It feels like a lot of people voted, and that’s good,” Rice said. “I definitely wouldn’t have voted in this kind of election if I didn’t feel like a lot of people were voting.”

McCormick freshman Ayesha Prashanth agreed that young voters, including her, have been energized by issues that hit close to home.

She said that rights young people might take for granted are at stake of being taken away, and people are starting to wake up.

“I think it’s really important for us to vote because historically young voters haven’t really turned out, and we need to show people and show members of Congress that we are a demographic that really matter and that they need to pay attention to us,” Prashanth said. “I want young voters to prove that our voice matters.”

Wilson Chapman contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @suzy_vazquez