How Do Young Americans Feel About Voting?

By: Priya Hay-Chatterjee

Priya, author of this piece, submitting her ballot at her local drop box

If you live in a politically active household, neighborhood, social circle, or city, someone has probably reminded you to vote recently. Maybe they were a family member or friend, or perhaps that reminder came in the form of a postcard in your mailbox or an ad on social media. For those of us who choose to absorb political messaging, the world is ablaze with reminders to vote.

For younger Millennials, older Gen Z’ers, and those who fall somewhere in between generations, social media offers an avenue to share the ways we connect with the world around us. One of these connections we share with the world — especially among politically active social media users — is politics. And with enough of a following, we have the potential to share our lesser-known ideas widely and influence those around us greatly.

To get a sense of how my circles feel about electoral politics this year, I decided to ask people directly. I created a poll on my Instagram story with a yes-or-no question: “Did you vote/do you plan on voting in the 2020 general election?” I then asked two open-ended questions: “If you voted, why did you feel the need to vote?” and “If you don’t plan on voting, why do you feel that voting isn’t for you?” Of the 279 people who viewed the poll,137 responded; 130 people (95%) said they voted or plan to vote, and only 7 people (5%) said they did not vote and don’t plan on voting. Nearly 30 people shared what influenced their decision.

It’s important to note that the majority of my followers are from liberal and progressive areas in Maryland and have relatively similar political affiliations to mine; I have many liberal and leftist followers, some moderate and centrist followers, some apolitical followers, and only a couple of conservative followers. In examining who responded to my mini poll, I should also note that those who voted in my poll may generally be the type of people who are more inclined to, well, vote.

Those who say they voted or plan on voting in the 2020 general election generally gave three types of responses: explicitly anti-Trump sentiments, concern for racial justice/reproductive rights/healthcare, or disillusionment with electoral politics. Of those who expressed disillusionment, some notable replies referred to the importance of local elections, pressure to vote from friends who support electoral politics, and the threat of fascism from the Trump administration. None of the voters’ responses explicitly expressed enthusiasm about Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris themselves.

The non-voters were a small and quiet crowd. Only one non-voter who was eligible to vote in this election gave an answer: “I live in California, so my vote doesn’t really count much toward the election.” This response was reminiscent of a follower who did vote in Maryland: “I don’t like Trump at all, but I felt like my vote didn’t and still doesn’t matter. But I didn’t want others to yell at me because I didn’t vote.”

For a generation that watched the whirlwind 2016 election unfold in their most formative years, the buzz around swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa has left many young voters in solidly red or blue states feeling that their votes don’t matter because they don’t live

in a swing state. One person who does plan on voting this year said they are doing so because “I’m in a swing state.” According to the Pew Research Center, American Gen Z’ers are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation so far, and also the most likely to disapprove of the Trump administration — coming in at a staggering 77% disapproval rating. In an age of social media, Gen Z’ers and Millennials are often absorbing sobering news and images of police brutality circulating through Twitter. Given these statistics, and young voters’ unprecedented access to information and opinions, it’s unsurprising that some are frustrated with an electoral system that hinges on a few states, rather than a majority vote, to defeat fascism and decide the direction of our country’s politics.

For a demographic that often sides more progressive politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the #SettleForBiden sentiment is real. Some young progressives and leftists, especially those in solidly red or blue states, feel that participating in direct service, rather than following intangible national politics, is a better use of their time and energy.

So, what does this microcosm of young liberal and progressive voters suggest about the 2020 general election? If you’re a staunch Biden/Harris supporter, you can rest assured knowing that even die-hard Bernie supporters and those who deeply resent electoral politics either voted or plan on voting by November 3rd. If you’re a Trump supporter, the statistics aren’t promising, to say the least. And if you don’t like either candidate, especially if you feel that you’re forced to settle for one and only have a say in state and local politics, it appears that Generation Z is with you.

Here’s a complete list of why those who voted “Yes” said they are voting this year. Some responses are edited for length and/or clarity.

- To get rid of the racist clown in office

- I am privileged to be able to vote and have a duty to choose a leader who cares for all people

- I know that literal human rights are at stake

- I didn’t want the guilt of not voting to consume me; I might as well exercise this one right lol

- Local elections and not being a hypocrite

- There’s unfortunately many people who don’t have the choice and cannot vote

- To try and help those who can’t vote or are affected worse than I am

- Trump is scum

- Because Trump is a fascist

- I don’t like Trump at all, but I felt like my vote didn’t and still doesn’t matter. But I didn’t want others to yell at me if I didn’t vote

- This election is crucial and every vote matters right now

- So fascism and ignorance no longer reins in our country. And to get COVID-19 under control, to support abortion access (hopefully the repeal of Hyde) and to keep the ACA. However, I’m not confident in a Biden administration changing policing or abolishing ICE. But I’d rather critique a Biden administration than a Trump administration. Hopefully we can get somewhere…

- Civic duty

- It’s my responsibility! Voting = change

- I’m in a swing state

- It’s the bare minimum level of civic participation and there’s no reason not to

- Because if everyone acts like their voice doesn’t matter nothing will change!!!

- Because while I know electoral politics won’t save us, the threat of fascism from Trump is real

- I treat it like the political equivalent of flossing, not as important as direct action but a fine use of some time

- In general, I’ve always felt it’s important to vote, but this election is high stakes for me

- Having someone other than Trump in office might give a bit more space for other problems, in my opinion

- Trump is sh** and needs to be gone so Biden can help pick up the pieces Trump has left us in

- Being Black in America sucks and any step we take forward will be worth it in the end

- Not only to express my own personal opinions and beliefs, but also for those who aren’t eligible to vote

- Even though I have no faith in “democracy,” the election is critical to the climate crisis and COVID-19

- To slow the damage that Trump is doing to the climate/abortion access/immigration/racial justice

- Because Trump has got to go!!!

- While I understand that liberal politics aren’t progressive and the Democratic party still upholds imperialist policies, I feel like it would be easier to sway public opinion about pushing the government to be more progressive if we aren’t dealing with a fascist. I don’t mean to be facetious, but if we can agree that a president can’t be an outwardly horrid human being, we can focus on diving deep into these liberal policies and what they actually mean for marginalized people. That said, I’m also not going around telling people they HAVE to vote because people are and have been distrusting of the process, and for good reason

- It’s our civic duty

- Our country feels chaotic and I learned the importance of voting.

- Because the local races matter

- It’s quick and easy. Even though I have suspicions voting might be useless, it still can’t hurt!

- It’s important to me to exercise my right to vote and to exercise my values/opinions on where the US should go

The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.