Midterm madness: the teen vote


The 2016 presidential election ushered in an era of civilian political awareness that put young people posting on Twitter into national news articles, debate stages (i.e. Cameron Kasky and Marco Rubio after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) and at the forefront of marches to the state capital that will find their place into history textbooks in the next 20 years.

In 2018, much of this energy was turned into the streets, as young voters could be found canvassing for local candidates preceding the midterm election; TeenVogue and Instagram implored newly-eligible voters to exercise their right on the front pages of the online magazine and app upon every other click; teenage and millennial celebrities made videos advertising midterm voting as frequently and emphatically as a hair product or designer brand clothing.

NPR reported that Taylor Swift breaking her political silence and endorsing a Democratic candidate in her home state of Tennessee spurred a seven fold increase in early voting by eligible individuals aged 18 to 29 in the state. According to The Atlantic, all of these efforts translated into a 188 percent increase nationally in early voting by individuals age 18 to 29 from 2014’s midterm elections.

As incendiary as statements and policies coming from the White House may be, midterm elections have greater influence on our daily lives than federal ones: they determine who examines and regulates the quality of our public schools, who makes decisions about driving laws and what becomes of public resources, who responds in the face of statewide emergency. Knowledge of presidential affairs is ubiquitous, but how aware were KO students during the most recent local elections?

A poll issued by the KO News revealed that, of the students from all four forms that answered, only 21.6 percent were completely aware of who held office in townwide (mayor, district representatives, etc.) and state (senators, governor) positions prior to the midterm elections.

However, during the election, 43.2 percent of students reported being aware of the representatives running for office in their district, for senator and governor, and the parties all candidates were affiliated with, and 40.5 percent of students being slightly less aware. As far as the specific political stances of candidates on key issues being debated nationally stage (e.g.. marijuana legalization, women’s reproductive rights, etc), only 33.8 percent of students were entirely aware of the opinions, while 43.2 percent reported being somewhat aware of them.

True to Gen Z stereotype, 71.2 percent of poll answers reported getting all their information about the candidates predominantly via social media, followed closely by TV ads and general word of mouth (both 57.5 percent); 39.7 percent of students performed their own personal research of candidates as well.

One-month post election, a majority of students reported feeling more aware of local and state representatives and their political stances, but 36.5 percent indicated no significant change in their knowledge.

Though lowering the voting age to 16 is laughable to most adults, politicians and laymen alike, the changing political landscape and heightened level of awareness in young people might make a better case for it.

“I think that the voting age should be lowered, because with the resources available today, people younger than 18 have enough information to vote wisely,” said junior Esha Shrivastav. “I believe that around 16, teenagers become responsible enough to recognize that the decisions they make affect not only them, but society as a whole.”

A difference of two years does not appear so significant in any other context, so why is it in politics?

Or does the brain chemistry that makes teenagers more likely to act recklessly in large groups prevent them from having the temperance of an adult voter (who, at 18, is by every definition except legally still a teenager)?

Debate amongst your friends, ask your parents, grandparents and teachers, and give them this article as evidence for this stance – should the voting age be lowered?