Midterm elections are a cause for student apathy rather than interest

In Opinion
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Photo by Marisela Gonzalez

Midterm elections have more informed voters than general elections. This is partly because most millennials don’t care as much about midterms as they do general elections.

Students are at an age where they are selfish; if a candidate or proposition doesn’t directly affect them, they aren’t going to vote.

Such a perspective is unfortunate because it negatively impacts our democratic process by allowing the few informed individuals to vote for the masses. Moreover, when younger individuals opt not to vote, it leaves out an important voice of our generation.

The apathy that students take on during midterm elections is apparent. These elections usually have a lower turnout than general elections.

Compare that with presidential elections. In 2008, 57.1 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the election; this was the highest level in four decades. During the subsequent midterm election, only 36.9 percent cast ballots. Then in 2012, the percent jumped to 53.7 percent. Admittedly, no election brings out all eligible voters.

Part of the reason people are more likely to vote in presidential, rather than midterm elections, is because of their recognition of who’s on the ballot, according to Matthew Jarvis, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton. He siad more than 96 percent of people can name the current president, but only a third of people can name their representative.

“We can hardly expect people to vote in an election for or against someone they’ve never heard of,” Jarvis said. “This is partly because people don’t care, partly because media don’t give midterms as much coverage (particularly of the individuals involved), and partly because presidential contests are inherently more competitive.”

Only 13 percent of voters from this midterm election were under the age of 30, according to Pew Research exit polls. In the 2010 midterm election, they made up a whopping 12 percent. These numbers are vastly different than the 19 percent they made up in the 2012 presidential election.

Students are too short-sighted and are incapable of seeing the broader picture when it comes to caring about something that greatly affects others rather than just themselves.

Students care about midterm elections if they know what’s at stake and what’s important to them, said Scott Spitzer, Ph.D., associate professor of political science for CSUF. However, he said students are no different from the general public during midterm elections; the American people as a whole are uninformed.

“I think people don’t pay as much attention to elections unless the president is on the ballot. Students have very low turnout as well in midterm elections,” Spitzer said.

He also said voter turnout is dependant on how tightly contested that district’s race is. If the race is tight, there is more advertising, which translates into more public awareness.

Voters who went to the polls this year went because they were discontent with the current administration and wanted to see change with their local government, according to ABC News.

It’s not just one side of the political aisle getting the heat. It’s estimated that as much as 34 percent of voters were voting in opposition to President Barack Obama, and 61 percent of voters were voting because they were dissatisfied with the Congressional Republicans. These are the voters who are paying enough attention to get upset with how public officials are running the country.

Stephen Stambough, Ph.D., professor and chair of the division of politics, administration and justice, teaches classes on elections and campaigns. He said midterm voters aren’t necessarily more informed, but are rather habitual voters, who consider voting part of their identity.

Similar to Spitzer, he also believes students care about midterm elections if there’s a really high-profile issue involved, except this wasn’t one of those years.

Instead, this year California’s ballot had dull, yet important, initiatives and the gubernatorial race wasn’t competitive.

Students are not going to change. Unless politicians or propositions give students something they want, they won’t take time out of their day to vote.

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