U.S. college students in their young adult years are responsible for historically low voter participation rates, averaging between 21 and 25 percent turnout in the last 35 years, according to a study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). UC Davis students are no exception to this statistic and are expected to continue in this trend in the June 2014 gubernatorial primary and November midterm elections, said ASUCD and CALPIRG members.
The CIRCLE study further reported voter turnout of college students ages 18 to 24 — both registered and unregistered to vote — was 26.5 percent in the 2010 midterm elections and 53 percent in the 2012 presidential elections.
Youth participation is considerably lower in primary, local and midterm elections than in presidential elections, even in years when presidential election participation is on the rise, said CIRCLE.
This trend of low civic participation on the part of college students has a number of explanations, said former ASUCD Vice President Bradley Bottoms, a fourth-year political science and sociology double major.
Of U.S. students who were registered yet failed to vote in the 2010 midterm elections, 34.7 percent reported this was due to a lack of time, 23.1 percent were out of town or away from home, 21.6 percent had “other reasons,” 12.2 percent were not interested and 8.4 percent forgot, reported CIRCLE.
Additionally, students may refrain from voting particularly in Yolo County elections because they are unaware of the process.
“They don’t know they need to re-register to vote once they move to another district or they choose to vote via mail in ballot in their home districts,” said Director of University Affairs and third-year political science major Dillan Horton.
As a form of “homesickness” or to stay attached to issues at home, Horton said that many choose to remain registered in their hometowns and believe their few years in Davis are not a significant enough period to register to vote in Yolo County.
“I probably wouldn’t consider registering in Yolo County because I’d be graduated by the next presidential election,” said Lucas Mohageg, a second-year managerial economics major, who is registered to vote in his hometown.
However, Horton refutes this notion.
“The way I rationalize it, whether or not [I’m] voting for [local officials], they are representing me,” Horton said. “So if they’re representing me and I choose not to vote for them, I choose not to have a say in decisions made on my behalf. There’s no reason I should be voting for people who do not represent me currently.”
Additionally, some students may refrain from political participation as they do not sense that their participation will affect election outcomes or that they are educated enough to make informed voting decisions.
“The problem is that students don’t think their vote matters,” said Donna Farvard, CALPIRG board chair and a fourth-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major. “The more students who go out to vote, the more our voices would be heard. It is like a collective action as students. Candidates and elected officials would then realize that they need to listen and understand issues that are pertinent to students.”
Horton said he feels there is very little reason for feeling powerless in local elections.
“If you want to make a change or decision and you get a group of people behind you, you actually can do that in a local election because there are less people voting than in national elections,” Horton said.
Much of the issue, Bottoms said, is due to lack of time on behalf of busy students; for most, seeking more education on political matters is the last thing students want to do.
“I don’t vote because I’m not educated enough on the stuff I’d be voting on. I don’t want to be somebody who votes only according to how my ‘party affiliation’ expects me to vote without forming my own opinions,” said Courtney Jimenez, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major.
However, advocacy on the part of ASUCD has been set into motion to aid in increasing young voter participation.
“We think that students’ voices aren’t heard because candidates don’t think that students go out to the poll[s] enough,” Farvard said. “The first step is getting students to register to vote.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voter participation increases in newly registered citizens. An average of 81 percent of newly registered voters between the ages of 18 and 21 participated in the 2004 presidential elections.
During the 2012 presidential election season, CALPIRG’s New Voters’ Project registered approximately 5,000 students to vote in Yolo County. This campaign has continued on behalf of CALPIRG, including for the upcoming June primaries, in efforts to get to the root of the issue and raise students’ voting rates.
Additionally, ASUCD plans to host candidates running for local and state offices on campus for rallies and debates in the months preceding November’s midterm elections.
Bottoms, Farvard and Horton agree that many of the issues in the upcoming primaries — particularly who will be seated for local and state offices — directly affect students at UC Davis. These officials will make decisions upon issues such as public universities’ state-funded research, grant availability, quality of education and tuition hikes, Bottoms said.
“If students don’t have the power, City Council will vote in the favor of people who will get them reelected,” Bottoms said. “There’s a lot of power getting students to vote, especially in Davis.”
BRENNA LYLES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.