The activism that inspired the March for Our Lives events over the weekend is being viewed as the launchpad for the next generation of voters.
#NeverAgain leader David Hogg, a student at the South Florida high school where 17 people were fatally shot last month, spoke at Saturday’s rally in Washington about the movement’s electoral implications.
“Ninety-six people die every day from guns in our country, yet most representatives have no public stance on guns. We are going to make this the voting issue.”
“And to those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say: Get your résumés ready.”
But despite some activists’ pledge to vote out lawmakers who do not support tighter gun laws, data suggests that the passion among young people may not spur them to the polls consistently.
Getting young people interested is not the challenge. Keeping them interested is.
The firm Political Data earlier provided The Washington Post with data showing that younger voters are among those with the lowest turnout — except for 18-year-olds.
The excitement, if not social pressure, over participating in one’s first election is pretty high, especially given the intense political engagement among young people at this time.
The Public Religion Research Institute reported that, in the past year, more than 4 in 10 young people (ages 15-24) followed a campaign or cause online, signed an online petition or posted on social media about an issue that mattered to them.
But history shows that when it comes to voting, engagement — especially in nonpresidential elections — drops off for young adults.
A report from the Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement stated that voter turnout among young people fell to its lowest level on record in 2014. Fewer than 1 in 5 U.S. citizens ages 18 to 29 cast ballots that year, compared with an average of nearly 27 percent for the same age group in midterm elections over the previous 40 years.
Granted, we are in what many have defined as a different political climate, in which activism resulting from low approval of President Trump and Congress has led to a string of losses for the Republican Party in congressional races. The youngest generation of voters is promising to continue that streak this fall if lawmakers do not make gun control a priority.
But even if this generation of emerging adults helps to bring about change, how sustainable is it? The likelihood of politicians honoring this demographic’s political interests is not high if these young people do not turn into a reliable voting bloc.
The Pew Research Center reported that 22- to 29-year-olds made up 6 percent of “consistent” voters in recent national elections. Compare that with voters who are 65 and older. They made up nearly 30 percent of consistent voters.
This matters when considering whom lawmakers, and their challengers, may listen to most when presenting policy ideas, especially on issues related to guns. Older voters are much more likely to be white and Republican. This demographic is generally more conservative on the issue of guns.
If the young people who filled the streets across the country on Saturday want to have a long-term effect on gun laws and other priorities, they will have to do more than simply participate in the 2018 elections. At the very least, they will need to be consistently engaged — and, ideally, participate beyond voting and perhaps become donors, join campaigns or run for office.