Article by Joseph Wargo
Images courtesy of Mike McKenna and Element 5 Digital, Unsplash
For many American college students, this year will be only the first or second presidential election they have been eligible to vote in. Historically, younger voters have not been as engaged in our country’s election process as older voters. This could be due, in part, to the fact that the legal age of voting was lowered to eighteen just 49 years ago when the 26th amendment to our constitution was ratified. Since then, however, the number of young voter turnout in elections hasn’t increased much. The turnout of eligible 18-29 voters was about half, the same in 1980 as it was in the last presidential election of 2016 when they accounted for just 13% of total voters.
This is actually par for the course, as estimates show only about half of the total eligible voters in the country actually voted in the last election. In a 2018 poll conducted by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), 65% of those aged 18-29 who didn’t vote cited “Didn’t like the candidates/issues” as their reason.
There’s a word for this reason: disillusionment. When you watch as politicians, whether they call themselves liberals or conservatives, are voted in by the people only to pass laws that benefit select groups able to contribute the most dollars to political campaigns, you can’t blame the average citizen for feeling like their vote doesn’t matter.
Perhaps these issues are related. When the general public actively engages in the political process, they can and have often brought about real change in our nation. From the abolishing of slavery movement (which began much earlier than the American Civil War) and women’s suffrage, to the civil, abortion, and LGBT rights of today. But when we grow lazy and uninformed, it allows corruption to seep in the cracks of our system and wreak havoc.
So what are the issues that we’re facing today, and who are our choices in the upcoming election? As of this writing, there are currently two major candidates for the presidency, representing two different political ideologies.
The incumbent candidate, the current president running for reelection as a Republican, is Donald Trump. Before being elected to the executive office in 2016, he was primarily known for being a real estate mogul and a reality television host. His political positions have changed over the years, but since his assumption to the office he has taken what could be described as populist, conservative stances. Economic positions include favoring tax cuts for corporations and individuals, increasing trade protections for the U.S., and deregulating financial institutions. Examples of social issue positions include being pro-life, strong on immigration restrictions, lax on gun control regulation, and against legalizing recreational marijuana.
The Democratic party’s presumptive nominee to run against Trump is former Vice President Joe Biden. He is presumed to be the choice his party will elect at the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for the week of August 17th, 2020, because he is currently running unopposed. Joe Biden’s stances could be described as moderately liberal. Some examples of his views include abolishing the death penalty, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, supporting new nuclear energy technologies and taxing carbon emissions.
Although he is no longer running, a third, popular candidate was the current Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who also made a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. He suspended his 2020 presidential campaign on April 8th and endorsed Joe Biden a few days later, but announced he would leave his name on the ballots of the remaining primary elections to be held. Bernie Sanders’ stances could be described as progressive. Sanders himself is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist. In addition to being in favor of many of the same things as Biden, his campaign had largely run on the promises of free healthcare and free higher education for everyone. He was also the only candidate of the three that is in favor of reducing the defense budget.
It would be a false claim to say these are your only choices. The list of third-party candidates is enormous, with ideas and opinions that span the entire range of political ideologies from anarchism to fascism. You may not agree with all the views of these candidates, but that’s the point. Freedom in this country means the right to choose, and having a variety of choices in politics is important and necessary for governments to function well. “It takes a village,” goes the old saying, and, ultimately, it is important to remember that the government isn’t a separate “they”, it is not inherently malicious or nefarious in its actions. The government is made up of people, and those people are us. We are the government, in a very real and important way. That is why it is up to each and every one of us as responsible adults to take these matters seriously and make sure our voices are heard.