Non-voting Skyline students highlight larger issues
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Nonvoting college students are usually uninformed or detached from the candidates
Bobbee Calacal, a business student in Skyline College, holds two jobs and takes evening and online classes. Like many of her peers, her schedule is packed and she is lucky to squeak in a few hours of free time. Also like many college students, Calacal didn’t vote.
“I lagged on registering to vote, ” Caracas said. “I was so busy.”
Many college students, from the ages of 18 to 24, weren’t motivated to vote this year due to lack of knowledge and detachment to the candidates.
According to political science professor Johannes Masare, senior citizens vote at the rate of around 72 percent, and for young people it’s typically 35 to 40 percent. Furthermore, the percentage of young voters is gradually decreasing as years go by.
Logistically speaking, young people should be in the forefront of the election because their future is on the line.
“If you’re 20 and you live to be 80, the laws that pass during this administration will affect you for 60 years,” Masare said. “If you’re 65, those laws will affect you for only 15 years.”
College students should also be conscious about voting because it directly affects their education.
“When I first started working in Skyline, a unit was ten dollars per semester. Now it’s about 46 dollars. Why is that? As the national debt increases the federal funds go to pay interest on borrowed money, so they cut educational funding” Masare said.
Fifty-four percent of young people identify as independent but heavily lean towards democratic ideologies, Masare pointed out. So why is a large population that clearly seeks political, social and economic change not motivated enough to vote?
Mustafa Popal, a history professor, hypothesized that college students did not vote because they weren’t inspired by the presidential candidates.
“The question shouldn’t be ‘Why don’t young people vote?’ it should be, ‘Why aren’t these candidates inspiring people to vote for them?’” he said.
This year’s campaign strategy for both parties was to convince voters that they were the ‘lesser of two evils.’ Popal said that this strategy is ineffective. The candidate’s proposed solutions to key issues should be the focus of the campaign. This may account for feelings of detachment to the candidates.
Popal also said that young non-voters consider politics to be an irrelevant aspect of life. They don’t have a voice to create political change. Calacal expressed this sentiment as well.
“My vote wouldn’t even count much anyway,” Calacal said. “It’s frustrating that Hillary won the popular vote by thousands but Trump won the Electoral College.”
College students, as well as the general population, argue that they are being cheated out of true democracy because of the Electoral College. Being discouraged by the Electoral College is a contributing factor to young voter apathy, according to Masare.
Popal suggests young people should at least vote on propositions to make an impact locally, even if they believe their vote doesn’t count on a national level.
Ironically, voting on propositions can actually deter students from voting as well.
Thirty-six percent of Californians say they don’t vote because the technical language of the legal documents is beyond them, Masare said.
Jeff Diamond, another political science professor, suggests that students must advocate for themselves and self-educate. He recommends utilizing reliable online and radio sources such as KQED or KALW.
Being educated about presidential candidates, their policies, as well as local propositions is an advantage. Educated voters have a sense of control.
“As young people begin to take politics more seriously, they pay more attention, and learn more about how things work, which in turn makes them want to participate more,” Diamond said. “They become more responsible, but also more interested-which makes them deeper, more thoughtful people.”
Popal, Masare and Diamond have different theories on why students don’t vote, but they can all agree that young people should gather and share accurate information about candidates and their policies. Educating oneself and spreading knowledge is the key solution to getting more young people to vote.
Casey Angeles, a student at Skyline College, grasped the basic platform of each candidate, yet chose not to vote.
“I know that I’m not educated enough to understand politics,” Angeles said. “But I’m not very happy about the results, I’m terrified of Trump’s white supremacist supporters harassing innocent people including myself and loved ones.”
According to Angeles, the majority of her friends did not vote for the same reason: they felt out of the loop.
This backs Popal’s argument that individual students should discuss politics with their friends even if social norms dictate that it’s “only for old people” or it’s too uncomfortable.
“The first problem is that we don’t hold public discourse,” Popal said. “When we don’t talk about politics in the dinner table, we are divorcing ourselves from this important aspect of life with the people that we are closest to.”
Students don’t need to yell into megaphone amidst a crowd. Masare suggests that young people should hold a discussion group with as little as two friends.
That may not be the easiest task. Andres Cortes, a computer science major in Skyline College, voted, but prefers to confine political discussions to class.
“I choose not to talk openly about politics because it can open a can of worms for some,” Cortes said. “This election was very heated and opinions were strong, so it can be stressful to even think of politics.”
Breaking social norms by speaking to loved ones is a great way to start. Rather than simply trying to convince others to vote, the professors suggest that students hold intimate discussions filled with accurate information.
Popal stressed that democracy is not a moment. Democracy is a process that takes place year round. Ultimately, every vote does count and college students should take advantage of their most basic democratic power.
Calacal realized the importance of voting only after she listened to the strong reactions from her peers post-election.
“I regret not voting this year, especially since Donald Trump won,” Calacal said. “I’m definitely more motivated to vote next time because I want to see change.”