Let's Welcome Young Voters!

Today's teen voters may be the best qualified in several decades.

Posted Sep 03, 2020

News articles suggest that youth voters “could be pivotal in the 2020 presidential contest." How should older Americans feel about the participation of young people in shaping the future of the United States through their votes in the forthcoming election?

Prostock-studio/Shutterstock
Source: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

The cohort of young people voting this November may be the most deserving of participation in several decades. More young people are graduating from high school now than was true in 2010. If you think that a well-educated citizenry is important for elections, then we can welcome 2020's highly educated 18-year-olds into the ranks of qualified voters.

This year’s new voters have for the most part lived more responsibly than today’s 30-year-olds. The most recent statistics suggest that those in the 18-23-year-old age range are less likely to report binge drinking in high school than any age cohort in the preceding 30 years; today’s teens are also less likely to be in fatal car accidents than teenagers of the previous five generations. Teen pregnancy is at its lowest rate in 50 years. If you think that a participant in our democratic process ought to have demonstrated restraint and responsibility, then today’s young people have exceeded the threshold set by preceding generations of new voters. 

Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Source: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

As a country, we have succeeded in preparing the best crop of new voters in recent memory. We should welcome the participation of these young people in selecting officeholders. 

Unfortunately, state legislators across the country are enacting laws that have as a purpose or consequence reducing the number of young people who can vote in November. These laws include requirements that voters have in-state drivers’ licenses or efforts to restrict vote-by-mail to only senior citizens (making voting difficult for college students attending institutions out of state). 

Legislators once aimed to increase voting among young people. A popular and effective piece of legislation to increase youth voting allowed teenagers to register to vote months in advance of their 18th birthdays, which creates a commitment among teenagers to vote as soon as they’re eligible. The effect of this kind of legislation, researchers have found, is to subtly shift public policy to focus more on young people. For example, states that allowed preregistration were found to invest more resources in education, a traditional concern of young voters.

Public opinion polling suggests that young voters are substantially more likely to believe that climate change is due to human activity than older Americans. Similarly, most young voters believe that Blacks are treated less fairly in the United States than are Whites, a view held by only half of the baby boomer generation. These polling results provide some insight into the policies that will be supported by young people. We can expect that including the voices of young people through the vote will result in legislation and regulation that will promote preservation of the climate and racial and ethnic equity. 

Vesperstock/Shutterstock
Source: Vesperstock/Shutterstock

All Americans who are eligible to vote should do so. As a country, we should welcome young voters to join us at the polls, to create regular voters who give voice to their preferences by selecting candidates for political office. America’s contemporary young voters may be the best-qualified in decades. They hold reasonable policy preferences, consistent with the latest in scientific thinking and sensitive to current events. Their views ought to be respected by older Americans, rather than rejected.  

In the long term, American democracy flourishes when citizens participate. Let’s welcome 2020's youngest voters to the electorate, and by doing so ensure the future of the country.