A recent report of 40 states to update their voter rolls since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. has indicated that young people (18-29 years of age) are registering to vote at a significantly increased rate.
While it may not be overly surprising that Florida saw an 8 percent increase in that age group registering to vote considering the outspoken advocacy of several surviving students in the wake of the shooting, it is more surprising (and in this publication’s view, encouraging) that other states not even affected by school shootings are also seeing an up tick, such as an enormous surge of 15 percent in Pennsylvania.
Nationally, we are seeing increases of about 3 percent in voter registration among our youngest voters. That may not seem like a lot, but as any political science major can attest, one or two or even a half of a percentage point can mean a win or a loss in any tight race. The fact that young voter registration is increasing in states more important to the electoral college, like Florida and Pennsylvania, is also something to keep in mind as we head towards the next presidential election in 2020.
Prior to that is the midterm elections this fall, where the color of both the United States Senate and House of Representatives could swing from red to blue if there is enough of a reaction from people unhappy about the decisions of the current administration and the line toeing from the Republican majority Congress.
Obviously, whether you lean towards being a Republican or a Democrat will determine how you feel about the potential of a blue wave sweeping across the nation and flipping enough seats in Congress to take away the Republican monopoly on policymaking that currently exists. However, make no mistake, if a blue wave is to happen, it will be led by young voters.
Studies have shown young voters tend to lean more progressive and more Democratic, especially if they have attended some level of post-secondary education. Such a fact isn’t necessarily surprising either, as progressive ideals tend to involve more optimistic views of society such as wage, social and other forms of cultural equality, in addition to a tendency to be pro-choice, pro-marijuana and pro- gun control. Many of these views clash drastically with the views of older voters, especially those who lean more conservatively.
To say that the country is at a serious crossroads when it comes to our cultural belief systems and how we are governed from the federal level to the state level would be an understatement. Since 2012 nine states and, in a splendid bit of irony, Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use, despite the federal government categorizing cannabis to be a drug as dangerous as heroin.
Individual states, including Rhode Island, are now trying to ensure access to certain healthcare such as contraception and abortion services due to uncertainty about what direction the federal government is headed. Some places set up sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants and refugees while some pass laws that enable police to openly discriminate against people who “appear” to be undocumented aliens.
These issues, despite their layers of complexity, often bubble down to guttural, knee-jerk type arguments between people. Pro-choice or pro-life; illegal immigrants should be treated like criminals or with the decency that should be given to all human beings; are you an ignorant, hateful conservative or a liberal snowflake who wants to get everything for free from the government?
While it’s easy to wish that life functioned like a movie, where the “right” side wins out over the “wrong” side, preferably in a snappy, satisfactory way where those in the wrong are publicly embarrassed and have to admit to the errors of their ways in a moment of stupendous climax, reality is rarely so simple.
The United States has been since its founding and forever will be an experiment in societal evolution. What began as a small cluster of frontier civilizations governed by purely white, landowning men has evolved into something far more complex, probably beyond what the Founding Fathers ever could have fathomed.
Regardless, one thing remains certain. Generations age and pass on, allowing younger generations to take their place. While some might find the youngest voting generation to be naïve or misguided in their activism and approach to bettering society, always keep in mind that they will be the ones plotting the course ahead.
Fifty years ago, young people referred to as the “hippy generation” were denigrated and looked down upon by their elders as being reckless, petulant and weak of character. Today, that same generation (now grown) must not forget how youth, inevitably, brings about a certain impetus towards change and progression – it is not merely a fad bred from a desire for attention. It is necessary to our collective future.