I just spent three days interviewing first-time voters. Here’s what I learned.
I spent the weekend interviewing 18- and 19-year-olds for an article on first-time voters for Mic. Here’s what they have to say:
They are excited to vote.
“I plan on voting because I don’t really see it as an option not to. I really do believe that it’s a civic duty and a privilege, and I can’t wait to be able to do it…It’s imperative that young people vote because in years to come, this is going to be our country. The actions of the government right now decide how we will live our lives. Specifically, their decisions on how to take on climate change and human rights issues will affect us, our children, and our grandchildren. I want to make sure individuals who have my best interest at heart are in office, not ones who are controlled by money.” — Miah Miller, freshman at Columbia University
“ I think that it’s important to vote and to elect people who align with my morals and views. I also think that as a woman it’s so important because so many other women around the world don’t get their voices heard, so I have a unique and privileged opportunity to do so.” — A U.S. freshman studying in Europe who voted absentee
They care about women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and the environment.
“[The most important issue for me is] the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, which have certainly been a topic of discussion in the last couple of weeks with the Trump administration wanting to redefine gender as the sex assigned at birth. It’s just mind boggling that that is a proposition in 2018.” — Miah Miller, freshman at Columbia University
“ I am concerned most about having the access to birth control and abortions right now. In terms of helping people, I think that we have a very poor healthcare system that needs to be changed so that it is more affordable for people.” — A U.S. freshman studying in Europe who voted absentee
“ Something we don’t focus enough on is the environment. Especially with the current president’s views on global warming and different climate issues, that should be taking priority. I think we’re especially seeing the devastation that global warming can cause in the different storms that had happened.” — Taylor Mackenzie, a freshman at Seattle University
We need to continue to pay attention to the issues young people care about.
“I was interviewed for different TV news shows in Hawaii [after I organized the March for Our Lives] and that got me really inspired to go into journalism to really feel like I had a voice. And then it faded out and that was really upsetting that no one cared, that there were no gun laws that [were put into place]. We had like two months where people cared about kids dying and then we moved onto the next tragedy. I had a hard time really coming to terms with the way that people, the way that the country can only really focus on an issue for a short amount of time. I’m just trying to continue to hold onto my core beliefs.” — Taylor MacKenzie, a freshman at Seattle University
They think it’s important to vote, even when they wonder if their vote really matters.
“Obviously one vote doesn’t really do anything, but if everybody thought that way, nothing would ever happen. If I go into a coma tomorrow and I don’t vote, obviously it’s not going to do that much, but if 50 million people…decide that they don’t want to vote tomorrow, we’re kind of screwed.” — Bonnie Manning, an 18-year-old living in Louisville, Kentucky
They believe their vote matters more at the local and state level.
“I hope that more people will become more and more engaged with their local politics and making a difference at a more accessible level. It’s hard for people to make a significant impact on a national scale, but even just voting in local elections can make make a fairly big difference since elections are often decided by a handful of votes.” — Willow Crites, a freshman at the University of Idaho
“My vote matters more in Ohio. In New York [where I go to college], it’s likely that the races will lean Democrat, whereas the governor race in Ohio right now is a toss-up.” — Miah Miller, a freshman at Columbia University
They hate the electoral college.
“The voting system in our country should be changed so that people do feel more of an incentive to vote. It’s kind of odd that the popular vote isn’t what we go by. If we could change the electoral college, I think there’ll be a lot more voters because would actually matter. I was in AP government in high school and everyone was rallying behind this idea that if the electoral college wasn’t there, then voting would matter more.” — Taylor Mackenzie, a freshman at Seattle University
Everyone mentioned Trump. And his tweets.
“My reaction when I heard about the 2016 election was not one of shock or dismay, but more of ‘Well, this is going to be interesting..’ If I was old enough to vote when that happened, I wouldn’t have voted for him [Trump]. I guess I still don’t see him as really being all that dangerous, just because I get such a feeling that there’s an air of incompetence. But I’m sure if I knew the real situation, I’d be more concerned. I’ve heard that there’s a lot of White House staffers who have to talk him down from sending really inflammatory tweets. And the press secretaries have to make up explanations for why he can’t spell.” — Milo Flint, a freshman at University of Idaho
“The thing I respect about Trump is that he doesn’t beat around the bush. He speaks like a common person…Most politicians when they get into office, they want to sound smarter than they really are. There was a survey that said he speaks like a sixth or eighth grader or something like that. But I don’t personally mind that, it makes him easier to understand. It makes him more relatable in my eyes. One the things I really dislike about him [though] is his Twitter. Maybe we should take away Twitter for at least a little bit.” — Alex Velez, a 19-year-old living in Cornwall, New York
You can’t understand youth politics without looking at how it intersects with identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
“Intersectionality in activism and politics is important to me, and I’ve observed it as a value for many other politically active people in my generation as well. Intersectionality is the way of thinking and organizing that recognizes the way that systematic oppressions overlap and addresses it (the term was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw). I’m not sure why it is that it’s becoming more important, but my inclination is to think that with the rise of social media, we can see and read about people’s lived experiences that are different from our own, maybe that we otherwise wouldn’t even know about, and we are able to see how important it is to recognize those differences. I think that social media has let people share ideas and practices that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to a range of people.” — Magnolia Totaro, a freshman at Barnard College
They don’t feel safe.
“When Obama was in office, I was relaxed. I didn’t really worry. I didn’t pay attention [to politics], because it felt safe. It was like, ‘This guy, he’s okay.’ Not terrified that I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and find that this, this and this went wrong. But since Trump took office, I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of my seat, like ‘what’s he going to do next?’” — Bonnie Manning, an 18-year-old living in Louisville, Kentucky
They are concerned about the political divide. They acknowledge that it’s hard to talk to each other, but recognize that we need to.
“Political divisiveness seems to be at an all-time high. I have an uncle who’s hardcore liberal and most of my family is conservative. I don’t want to hear screaming on Christmas about the next thing that Donald tweets.” — Alex Velez, a 19-year-old living in Cornwall, New York
“I think that [formal political parties] are holding us back. They are an excuse to fight more with each other, more than they are to create solutions. People are so eager to uphold the views of their party that they’re going to waffle on their moral values. And what they’ve promised to their constituents. It’s about who’s going to win.” — Derek VonDrehle, high school senior, Denver, Colorado
“I remember getting out of bed and seeing my mom crying in the kitchen and asking her why she was crying and she told me he [Trump] won [in 2016]. She’s like, ‘we didn’t see it coming in the slightest.’ Logically we knew it could happen, but we didn’t think it was likely. Part of that is because we’re all trapped in our own little bubbles. Most everyone I associate with are liberals or independent. I don’t really associate with any Republicans, unless I’m related to them. And I usually shut down when they start talking.” — Bonnie Manning, an 18-year-old living in Louisville, Kentucky
“I think it’s getting to a dangerous level of lack of bipartisanship… A lot of people in this town vote completely party line, because there’s so much stonewalling in Congress…I’m a firm believer in the principle that an enemy or an adversary is somebody whose story you haven’t heard. I’d like people to step back and remember that it’s not us versus them. It’s all of us versus the problems that face us together and trying to find a compromise.” — Milo Flint, a freshman at University of Idaho