By electing Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States in the 2020 Election, Americans chose a vision of hope and a promise of unity. They ushered in a new president and vice president whose administration will work to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, root out systemic racism, effectuate changes to combat climate change, work for and with the American people regardless of their political stance, and so much more. The results of the election relieved many people distressed at the current state of our nation and world, making them hopeful for a better future. It was a step in the right direction. Celebrations, displaying that hope, exploded throughout city streets across the country and world over the weekend of November 7th, following the announcement of the results.
In the year of record-breaking voter turnout, youth voters (ages 18-29) did not disappoint. Generation Z took to the voting booths, social media, and the streets to express themselves and their opinions, to make a difference, and to shape their future. More young people voted than in any previous election. According to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), youth voter turnout (53%) increased by 8% this year compared to the 2016 Presidential election. The voice of young people had a larger impact, too; the percentages of ballots cast by youth increased from 2016 to be 17% this year according to Edison Research. As Dr. Kinsey wrote in her Letter: As We Await the Outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election, “when young people think their vote matters, they do vote.”
The increase in youth voter turnout occurred thanks to dedicated youth leaders and their ability to generate nationwide excitement in securing our democracy and improving its functions for all of us, not just a select few. Hewitt students Marjorie K. ‘21, Kayla L. ’21, Maeve B. ‘21, and Olivia B. ‘21 worked with a nonpartisan, student-run initiative called Voters of Tomorrow Engage (VoTE) to increase voter registration, pre-registration, and political action. VoTE was founded in July of 2020 by Julie, a senior at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, along with three juniors at the Dalton School. Motivated by their passions for history, politics, and social justice issues, students who work with VoTE want to encourage and standardize youth civic engagement in their communities and schools by “educating friends, peers, and other young people to understand their vote matters and their voice matters,” according to Julie.
Julie noticed some changes in the accessibility of registration at her school in response to the election and her initiative. In previous years students would rarely hold voter registration drives; however, this year, in large part due to the efforts of VoTE and student leaders associated with the initiative, there were many more, larger in-school efforts to maximize student voter participation. “Fieldston isn’t the only school,” she said, and students at Fieldston aren’t the only young people who want to have their voices heard. Although “it would be great for school administrators and administrations to help register their students,” Julie recognized the power in “creating a movement that could unite students in advocating for their passion: in this case, youth participation in voting.” In addition, the interconnected nature of the New York City independent school system helped spread the reach of the VoTE initiative. In just five months since its founding, the program has recruited almost 60 students representing 24 affiliated schools (nineteen schools of those located in New York City). The Hewitt Upper School participated in 2020 Election Programming and, from the VoTE representatives, learned more about this election and our democracy.
Kayla and Marjorie have represented Hewitt in VoTE meetings, informed our community about political action, and encouraged students to go vote around election time. According to both students, civic engagement, particularly in this election, was critical because of the large, lasting consequences of this election on Americans’ lives and the world. Marjorie described her desire to “make a large difference,” motivated by “the prospect of working with other dedicated student leaders.” From their work with VoTE and their commitment to staying informed, both students have developed a more comprehensive understanding of American politics including the divide between political parties, the relationship (or disconnect) between policies and party, and factors underlying the motivation to vote.
In the 2020 Election, young voters witnessed the critical influence of their vote in defining the outcome and the prospect of the future. According to CIRCLE at Tufts University, 61% of youth voters nationwide preferred the Biden/Harris ticket. Their campaign attracted youth attention and ultimately votes because it targeted issues that young people are passionate about climate change, systemic racism, gun control, etc. Although Democratic youth supported other candidates (Bernie, Harris, Warren, and others) in the primaries, their excitement for Biden grew as he differentiated himself from others — and particularly Donald Trump — on those issues key to youth support. Youth votes were decisive in many swing states, particularly Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania (all of which Joe Biden either won or was projected to win when the results were announced). Biden attracted Black, Asian, and Hispanic youth votes in overwhelming numbers. According to the New York Times’ exit polls, Biden secured 67% of the youth vote, while Trump garnered just 29%. Youth voters’ extensive support for Joe Biden and his campaign played a significant role in his victory.
The youth population not only expressed overwhelming political support forJoe Biden’s presidency through their vote but also their community organizing and outreach. Whether volunteering as poll workers, protesting for substantive government action in response to police brutality and climate change, or educating those around them, young people found ways to explore their own identity, express their own opinions, and uplift each others’ voices. Technology, which has become even more essential during the pandemic, and the current digital era makes information, especially regarding news and politics, readily available to young people. Not only has a large portion of Generation Z reached an age that warrants inclusion in political processes, our generation, thanks to the accessibility of information because of media and social media, has also been able to immerse ourselves in political matters and express our passionate views about the social issues that this election raised. The leaders of tomorrow, even those who cannot vote, are using available resources and their strengths to be civically engaged and encourage political involvement and knowledge.
In the future, student leaders at our school and beyond plan to continue inspiring young people to support and engage in politics. Julie, Marjorie, and Kayla, alongside their peers, have committed to continue conversations surrounding politics, voting, and civic engagement on their respective campuses. VoTE is planning biannual voter drives to ensure students that were not eligible (because of age) to vote in this year’s election will be registered to vote, in addition to looking for junior representatives for each school who will continue the work of the organization in coming years. VoTE is determined to keep the momentum going by giving students opportunities to “come together and say their involvement in political processes is important and necessary.” These student leaders will make sure young people understand truly how much politics affects them and their futures.
“As the rising generation,” said Kayla, “we need to have our voices heard. It’s our country, our world, and our future.” The potential power of young people is nothing short of extraordinary and these student leaders epitomize the strength and possibility of this generation. Julie, along with the rest of the VoTE student representatives, has one last message: “As young people, we have the potential to influence and participate in our government. It starts with each and every one of our votes. Register to vote (pre-register to vote, if you can!), turn out when it’s time, and be informed when doing so.”
VoTE Additional/Contact Information:
Julie Johnson: email@example.com
Marjorie Kreynin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kayla Lance: email@example.com
Olivia Bell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maeve Browne: email@example.com