Finn Finneran is a typical college student. He studies neuroscience at BYU, has a job, spends time with his family and applies to medical schools when he has time. Finneran’s voting record also typifies the average Millennial: he has not voted once.
His voting record is not for lack of effort. He showed up for the first time at the polls without knowing voters must pre-register. On his second attempt, Finneran and his friend could not register to vote since it was one day past the deadline.
“It wasn’t going to change anything anyways,” Finneran said, “The way I was going to vote was way the Utah majority votes anyways, so it doesn’t matter.”
A study conducted in 2014 by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement showed that about 21.5 percent of Millennials voted that year. Reasons behind this trend could include apathy towards the voting system and embarrassment of extreme partisanship, but Utah continues to encourage millennial turnout through legislative changes and campaigns.
A recent study published by the Utah Foundation, a nonpartisan research center, stated that Millennials in Utah — like those across the nation — care more about social issues than political issues. The study, published in July, showed that most Utah Millennials think 90 percent of their peers registered to vote. In reality only 45 percent of Millennials can currently cast their vote come Election Day.
Why Millennials don’t vote
James Martherus, a BYU senior studying political science, said some voting apathy from Millennials may come from their belief that there are more effective ways to get things done.
“If you want to get funding for ALS, you can go to your congressman and try to get a bunch of signatures, or you could start an interest group and upload a viral video on YouTube of you pouring ice on yourself,” Martherus said. “I guess people see the normal political process as more clunky and harder to navigate.”
A “clunky” political system could also seem unfriendly to Millennials because of partisanship extremes in major parties. A Pew Research Center poll published in 2014 found that half of Millennials now describe themselves as political independents. A decreased allegiance to political parties could correlate with apathy for the voter system.
The Harvard Institute of Politics conducts a biannual nationwide survey project of young adults’ political views. Their former student president, Eva Guiadarini, participated in an interview on NPR on Oct. 8, 2014.
“Millennials very much believe in the value of public service, but they don’t believe in the value of politics,” Guidarini said. “There’s really heavy disillusionment in this really formative political period for young people, and it is definitely a cause for concern.”
Voter apathy effects
Many Millennials feel like the political system will not change with just one more vote. Julian Beck, executive director of the Utah Republican Party, said Millennials should realize that nothing will change if they don’t make their voice heard.
“They are going to be responsible to the debt. If the younger population doesn’t become more attune politically, we will continue to do what we are doing,” Beck said.
A decrease in voter turnout of any kind increases the power of the politically polarized major parties. This extreme partisanship will continue unless Millennials and other members of the silent majority cast their vote.
Hectic schedules and frequent address changes also increase the difficulty for Millennials to maintain valid voter registration. Some experts say low turnout in young voters happens with every generation and that millennial voter turnout will increase once their lives settle down.
BYU Political Science professor Quinn Monson said low turnout in young voters happens in every generation and that the trend corrects itself as time goes by. Monson, senior scholar for the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said older people are consistent in voting because they have more issues that will impact them directly. Permanent addresses and stable routines will naturally increase Millennial voter turnout, he said.
The Utah Republican Party says it has increased efforts to reach young voters through social media to better connect with voters who don’t stay informed through the nightly news or the newspaper. Utah also offers online voter registration to increase voter turnout and is one of 14 states considering the implementation of same-day registration, meaning that eligible citizens can register the day they walk in to vote.
The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office continues to focus on helping increase Millennial turnout through campaigns and events.
“If we’re ignoring them when they’re young, at what point do we start paying attention to them?” deputy director of elections Justin Lee said.
Last year the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office sponsored events during their Road to Registration tour such as the Campus Cup, a competition to see which college campus could register the most people to vote.
“One of the best predictions that someone will vote later is that they start to vote earlier,” Lee said. “Someone is much less likely to vote in the future if they don’t start voting earlier in life.”
BYU political science major Alejandra Gimenez says having family role models who vote helped foster her desire to vote.
Gimenez’s father emigrated from Argentina but was unable to vote as an immigrant. Gimenez, together with her parents, talked about who to vote for as a family so everyone felt involved in the voting process.
Gimenez said the right to vote is one of the main reasons why her father wanted to become a citizen.
“The idea is that part of being American is that you vote,” Gimenez said.
Some Millennials fight to make changes in the community through social movements and protests but could find additional channels for voicing their opinions as they better connect with political process.
“With Facebook and social media it’s so easy to express your opinion, and so I feel like there’s this disconnect. It’s like ‘Oh I’m sharing my ideas and my opinions,'” Gimenez said. “But we have to remember that you actually have to vote the people in office that you want that will express your opinions, too.”