As the election approaches, it’s clear we Americans are divided on many issues. But we all agree that everyone who can vote should vote, right?
The issue, of course, is that many don’t. The right to vote is too often ignored. And, as a 22-year-old concerned citizen, it pains me to say there is seemingly no bigger culprit than those of my generation.
Hey, we’re not alone. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are, in general, notorious for low turnout. But why? What makes us so apathetic?
The millennial generation – generally defined as anyone born between 1981-96 – makes up one-third of eligible voters (the number rises to almost 40 percent if we include Gen Z-ers born before the end of the century). In the 2016 presidential election, voter turnout was at a 20-year low, about 50 percent overall. Similarly, around 50 percent of people age 19-29 voted.
I could stop here and say, “Look! My generation votes at the same low rate as the national average.” Which makes the point, I guess, that we are just as apathetic as everyone else.
But those numbers only reflect the last presidential race. In midterm election years, voter turnout for my generation (18-29) drops drastically. During the 2018 midterms, the national average for voter turnout was 53 percent. Baby Boomers turned out at 64 percent, Gen Xers at 55 percent, but millennials only voted a paltry 42 percent.
And Gen Z, my generation? Only an embarrassing 30 percent of us eligible to vote actually cast our ballots.
My generation has the power to tip the election – to shape the future. We have the numbers, we have the voices, and we have issues that we care about. Unfortunately, I don’t think we realize our potential to enact change.
With age comes experience, and young eligible voters just don’t have that experience yet. We don’t fully understand how elections impact ourselves and others; we don’t fully understand how our votes impact an election. That is where the older generations need to help us.
There’s nothing new about older generations putting down younger generations. And my generation has taken quite the beating in that regard. It is said that we are lazy or simply don’t care – and maybe this is we why don’t vote in larger numbers. I hate the trend of breaking down the younger generations. We should instead be building them up, empowering them, and equipping them with the tools that they need for the future. In this regard, I agree with the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who said, "We pay a price when we deprive children of the exposure to the values, principles and education they need to make them good citizens.
One thing that was always taught in civics class (so I am told, as I was never given the opportunity to take one) is that voting leads to major social change, or inversely, that major social change is brought about by voting. The needle is advanced by justice movements – but only when those movements result in the empowerment of people to vote. Protests are effective when they inform voters of major issues, and also encourage them to vote on those issues.
Unfortunately, civics classes are a thing of the past in most school districts. We need to fix this. We need to revise curricula to teach the importance of voting and community responsibility, and we need the help of the older generations to do it. By bringing back civics classes, the older generation can reinforce the fundamental truth that our votes matter. From an early age, we need to be taught about the incredible power that we have to bring about positive change. Education is the silver bullet, it always has been and it always will be.
So to YOU, the older generations:
We are fighting for our future, the future of our planet, and the future of generations to come.
We may not align with you on many issues, but trust that we share your goal of establishing a better today and tomorrow.
We’re not lazy. We’re not apathetic. But we need your help so that we may realize the incredible potential that we possess.
I am encouraging all of my friends to register and to vote. I urge you to do the same with the young eligible voters in your lives.
Sam Gorodetzer is an Associate in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office.