The following story was reported during The Student Journalist Program’s five-day Summer Newsroom Workshop in August, 2016.
The days are getting busier for Aaron Ghitelman, a communications manager at Headcount, a non-partisan voter registration group that promotes democracy through music. Before going to work, he checks Headcount’s Facebook page and website before rushing to the Sirius XM Radio building to get equipment to tape an upcoming music festival this weekend. There’s less than 70 days left until the U.S. presidential election.
What kind of work goes into trying to get the largest age group in the country to vote? For Ghitelman, this has been a whirlwind of an election.
“It’s figuring out what’s on the plate, finding out what I might need to write Facebook posts about, what I might need to write copy about, which big projects are coming up and a variety of small tasks that add up,” he said.
For decades now, young voters have typically scored among the lowest when it comes to voter participation. With an estimated population of nearly 75 million, millennials now outnumber baby boomers. They make up roughly 31% of citizens eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center. But, in the last election, they had the lowest voter turnout of any age group. Less than 47 percent of millennials voted. Although some say this year’s presidential election is one of the most important ones in decades, will this change anything when it comes to motivating millennials to vote?
Several voter outreach groups hope so. Rock the Vote is a group that has been around since 1990, and it is the largest nonprofit and nonpartisan voter outreach organization in the United States. In 2008, Rock the Vote ran the largest nonpartisan youth voter registration drive in the nation's history by getting 2.6 million young voters registered to vote. Headcount, a lesser known organization, has garnered more than 360,000 registrations since 2004.
Ghitelman thinks low voter turnout could be explained by a disconnect between the issues young voters and candidates find important.
“It comes down to the issues that the politicians elevate. Young people vote the same way anyone votes when issues are clear cut and matter to them. I don’t think I’d be the first person to say that a lot of young folks too look at the two major party candidates and kind of roll their eyes and feel like these voices don’t represent them,” he said.
Setbacks for Headcount come in the form of celebrities, many of whom the young voters may consider role models, who choose not to vote. America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon, for example, said he will not vote in this 2016 election.
“I mean there is lot of people that died and fought for the right to vote. Me personally, I don't like the pageantry of it, it’s a popularity contest” Cannon said during a talk on Access Hollywood Live.
Singer Meghan Trainor was recently asked by Billboard about her intentions to vote.
“If it was [Clinton] or Trump, I’d definitely vote for her,” she said. “But I’ve never voted and I don’t have any desire to”
After backlash from fans, Trainor eventually said she’s “ready to vote.”
Given these attitudes that even celebrities have, Ghitelman is unsure how many young people will vote.
“I'd be lying if I said I knew”, Ghitelman says. “I know in the primaries we saw a ton of energy from young people and I personally hope we see that kind of turnout in November. If voting becomes a habit, then more young people are more likely to go out and vote.”