Election feature: young people as voters

Photos taken at the Global Climate Strike on Friday 15th March 2019.

Garry Knight

Photos taken at the Global Climate Strike on Friday 15th March 2019.

Alara Koprulu, The Carroll News

This article is part of The Carroll News Elections Series, written by the students of the Fundamentals of Journalism class. For more information on these series, check out this introduction!

John Carroll University sophomore Katy Zoller got involved in gun violence prevention after the Parkland shooting in 2018, when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others.

 “It seemed like the adults were not going to change anything. They kept offering thoughts and prayers, but thoughts and prayers won’t save a life. I realized that I had a voice and that I can make a change, especially after seeing other students using their voice and making change,” Zoller told a group of students from the Fundamentals of Journalism class at John Carroll University. 

So Zoller started a Students Demand Action chapter at John Carroll during her freshman year. Ever since then, she has been the president of the organization, engaged in planning events and meetings throughout the year. Students Demand Action is the high -school and college campus version of the national organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which was started in 2018. 

Young Voters are quickly reaching the voter turnout rates of Baby Boomers (Photo via PEW Research Center)

Zoller is an example of a young person who got engaged in the democratic system through an issue she cared passionately about. This is an increasing phenomenon among members of the millennial and Generation Z populations. And it could bring about a sea change in American politics. That’s because until recent years, young people have not voted in large numbers. 

According to the Pew Research Center, “Millennials and Gen X together cast 21.9 million more votes in 2018 than in 2014.” This demographic matters more to candidates and political parties than it used to because more of them are voting.

Gun violence was an important issue for young voters in the midterm elections in 2018. And in this election, Students Demand Action is working actively by calling and emailing young people to encourage the youth vote. During their meeting on Oct. 8, the JCU chapter got together to call and write to state representatives to direct attention to the issue of gun violence. Students could also participate by designing graphics to be used on SDA’s Instagram page or learn more about the impacts of gun violence. Care packages that included snacks and T-shirts were sent to participating members for extra motivation and comfort during the pandemic.

According to recent polls, Generation Z is becoming one of the most active voter groups, so candidates are paying more attention to their interests, especially climate change. Candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have taken account of this and included the Green New Deal in both of their campaigns. Introduced in 2018 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the Green New Deal is a plan that aims to be more environmentally conscious by reducing our carbon footprint and saving natural resources. The plan also seeks to fight back on economic inequality by creating new jobs.

But gun violence and climate change are not the only issues young voters care about and are looking for government action on. 

“Right now, I think young people are concerned about college loan payback, starting their careers, climate change, equality, and dealing with COVID,” said Colin Swearingen, a political science professor at John Carroll University.

The Carroll News reached out to Janine Boyd, who is the House Representative of District 9 here in Ohio, through Twitter and Instagram to see what issues she believed were important to young people but was unavailable for an interview. 

For the upcoming election, Students Demand Action was seeking what Zoller calls a “gun sense candidate.” Their research led them to the conclusion that Joe Biden is the best presidential candidate for this cause. They are a bipartisan group, Zoller stressed, making it clear that they are not anti-gun, just anti-gun violence. But this has led them to work on behalf of the Democrats in this election. 

The younger generations voting for Trump are more enthusiastic, however, according to Forbes Magazine, which said that “44% of Trump voters are ‘very enthusiastic’ about voting for him, as compared with only 30% of Biden voters about their candidate.”