As the summer of 2022 approaches, so does the primary election that will determine who will represent the major political parties in November’s midterm elections.
As those decisions loom for voters across the state, Grand Valley State University occupies a unique position in the Michigan election as the hub of emerging power in a growing constituency: young voters. of Generation Z.
Made up of voters between the ages of 18 and 25, the political power of Gen Z is growing rapidly.
At GVSU, Data from Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) study found that voting among college students increased by just over 21% between 2014 and 2018.
Landon Myers, the Michigan State coordinator for the Campus Vote project, said encouraging efforts to facilitate this increase is key to ensuring student opinions are recorded in the policy-making process.
“Making sure that students and young people vote means that they make their way to that table and have a little more voice, a little more representation,” Myers said.
The rise in voter engagement is one that continues to escalate in youth populations across the country.
Data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University shows that 54% of Michigan voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in 2020. It was a 12-point increase from the last general election in 2016 and just 11 points behind Midwestern leader Minnesota.
On the ground, these numbers represent thousands of GVSU students who voted to make their voices heard. One of those students, Jack Caron, volunteered as a campaign surrogate for a 2020 presidential campaign.
“Basically, I was coordinating with other students who wanted to volunteer,” Caron said. “And that was sitting on campus – not pushing students too much – but just asking them if they were registered to vote and offering them free stickers and just letting them know.”
With a major in journalism and a minor in political science, Caron is a voter who feels responsible for actively participating in politics.
“I’ve kind of always been interested in politics, I just think it’s really important,” Caron said. “I hate to hear complaints from anybody in any city or region or anything and (that person) doesn’t vote and do nothing about it, don’t support, watch and find who supports what.”
While GVSU students like Caron have voted in greater numbers over the past decade, many members of the campus community still don’t feel like voting.
The same NSLVE data that recorded a surge in student voting at GVSU still found the overall on-campus vote rate was just 35.7% in 2018, down 3.4% than the national college average.
“The most important thing I’ve learned myself is that so many people my age — I’m talking about the 18 to 22 age bracket — just aren’t registered,” Caron said. “They just don’t vote because they don’t care.”
To help encourage turnout, Caron said he found an effective tactic citing how little time it would take for students to vote given the satellite voting location in the basement of the Kirkhof Center.
“You go there and register to vote,” Caron said. “They give you a ballot and you fill it out right in the Kirkhof lobby. Then you give it back to them and you just vote.
Over time, individual academic interests and inclinations are things that Myers says are important to consider in getting students to vote.
“I know that’s definitely a specific area that we’re focused on and a lot of campuses are focusing on,” Myers said. “Trying and working on those voting rates for majors that don’t vote at the same rate as others.”
With participation rates historically varying between different majors, Myers said he sees the relationship between a student’s work and government decisions as a useful tool.
“Having government funding for the work that (students) study and learn is really important,” Myers said. “Trying to tie that into their careers could help (increase turnouts).”
One of the most consequential things that can be done to engage college voters, Caron said, is to put youth issues in the spotlight and make sure no one takes this growing voting bloc for granted. .
“(Officials) really have to take care of the young people and the issues that young people face,” Caron said.
The primary elections in Michigan are scheduled to take place on August 2. If the upward trend in youth voter turnout continues, GVSU students could have a significant impact on those elected to local, state, and congressional offices.