U.S. college students have more than doubled their rates of voting, according to a recent study by Tufts University. The study found that 40.3% of students voted in the 2018 midterm elections, compared to 19.3% in 2014.
The 2018 midterms voter turnout was almost 14% higher than in 2014, according to the United States Election Project. But the turnout of college students was still significantly higher than that of the general voting population.
This spike in young voters has the potential for a considerable impact on the upcoming 2020 presidential election, as young people tend to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. Voters ages 18-29 voted in favor of the Democrats 67% over 32%, according to the Harvard Institute of Politics.
“Younger voters tend to not be as religious, they don’t score as high on racial resentment as older voters... and they’re overwhelmingly pro-gay rights. Then they’re looking at the opposition, the Republican Party led by Donald Trump, which is none of those things,” said Richard Fox, professor of political science, regarding why young people tend to vote left.
The Tufts study found that registration among college students also grew. Overall, the study estimated that 7.5 million students voted in 2018. Out of this population, black women voted at the highest rate of any gender or racial group, with 43% percent turning out to the polls, according to the same study.
"I think [college students voting more] reflects a generation that is becoming more educated than any other previous generation and also has access to so much information right at their fingertips," said Jessica Flaum, a junior theatre arts major.
However, even with this dramatic uptick, young voters still vote less than older voters do, according to the research center Circle. Fox said this is because young voters follow politics less and report lower levels of efficacy, because they feel that the government doesn’t speak to issues they care about.
The overall rise in voting during the 2018 midterms may be due to the increasingly divisive political climate, according to Fox. “Based on research, Donald Trump has made a lot of people realize that maybe politics [are] more important than they thought. He’s such a polarizing figure,” said Fox. “He’s provoked more negative reactions, more so than positive reactions, among young people. When people are upset or distressed, they tend to turn out more,” Fox said.
Fox also emphasized that this trend will likely stick for the presidential election. This raises the question of whether the high level of engaged voters will stick after Donald Trump is no longer president, whenever that may be.
“If we go back to having a regular politician, like Joe Biden or Mike Pence, the level of engagement may drop. I don’t know if it will stick, but maybe politics will never be normal again, the way it used to be,” Fox said.
More college students voting has also led to more voting suppression on campuses across the country, according to The New York Times. Some schools in states such as Texas and New Hampshire have closed polling booths on campus and enforced stricter ID laws, due to new state laws. They have done so in order to prevent voting fraud, even though there is evidence that individual voting fraud is “almost nonexistent,” according to a 2014 study by the Scholars Strategy Network.