Student Voting Rates Spike in the 2018 Midterm Elections

Claire McMahon, Contributing Writer

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Voter turnout rose considerably from the 2014 midterms to last year’s elections, with young voters accounting for the most dramatic increase.

The Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tuft University’s Tisch College of Civic Life published a report analyzing the voting patterns of college students in both the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections. The report is based on the 10 million college students on more than 1,000 campuses across the country that participated in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE).

This was a widespread trend. 99 percent of participating schools observed an increase in voter turnout among their students.

According to the report, “Voting rates among all Americans increased 13.6 percentage points [and] college and university student voting rose a remarkable 21 percentage points.”

While there is no clear reason for the increased voter turnout among college students, there are numerous factors that might have contributed to this phenomenon.

For many students, voting is a deeply rooted value. “It was always ingrained in me that you vote. It’s just what you do,” said Clark University student Fion Kubani (‘20). 

For other politically engaged citizens, voting ethics developed in college or later in life. Therefore, the steps that institutions take to educate their students on the importance of voting and to instill motivation in them to participate in the political process can have a significant impact on election-day turnout.

The NSLVE detected changes in the way that certain colleges and universities are approaching political education. Participating universities are becoming more inclined to center learning around political involvement. 

The report said, “In recent years, we have seen a shift in the institutional commitment by leaders and faculty away from an apolitical civic learning and toward a learning for the health and future of democracy, a task that is inherently political.”

Many of the institutions participating in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement are also changing their approach to individualized civic education. “More presidents have put financial and human resources behind student political engagement efforts,” according to the report. “More faculty across disciplines are talking with students about policy issues relating to their field and reminding students of their responsibilities to register and to vote.”

The NSLVE also partially attributes the spike in voting rates to the publishing of their research in previous years: “The alarmingly low voting rates in 2012 and 2014 were a wake-up call to many individual campuses and to the higher education community broadly.” 

Consequently, many of the decisions made by elected officials have a direct impact on young people. However, despite their vested interest in policy decisions, historically, there has been a consistent age gap in voter turnout. The report indicates that this age gap seems to be closing slightly. The turnout gap between students over the age of 30 and those below the age of 22 decreased from 22.3 to 16.9 percentage points.

Many have speculated that the 2016 election—as well as the refocus on issues of importance to younger audiences on topics like gun control and climate change—contributed to the surge in student voting. While it is difficult to demonstrate a causal relationship between these events, it is evident that the aforementioned occurrences and the increase in youth voting are two defining factors of a politically changing atmosphere.

Clark University is one among other schools participating in the NSLVE initiative. “Clark has definitely encouraged me to vote,” said Nicole Tyetsky (‘22).