By Ben Muir
MI First Election
The 2016 presidential election has the potential of cultivating the largest young voter turnout in history. The question is whether the upcoming generation can embrace division and compromise to ultimately become more involved in future years.
But what happens if it comes crashing down? Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – who is the voice for many young people – loses, and young people are disappointed. Potentially ready to give up not just on this year’s presidential election, but the democratic process entirely.
20-year-old Republican Matt Ayres, who will vote for Trump if he gets the GOP nomination, says the 25 and younger population will remain politically immersed after the election in November.
“One, because the candidates are more favorable to the younger generation,” Ayres said. “Two, there are also candidates like Trump that make people want to vote to make sure he doesn’t get a chance.”
For Michigan, the March primaries captivated an unprecedented voter turnout among university students, acting as a potential precursor for what’s to come in the general election.
On Feb. 8, the deadline to register for the primary, nearly 100 Michigan State on-campus students went to East Lansing City Hall to register.
Marie Wicks, the East Lansing city clerk, says City Hall is a place to pay a ticket, water bill, or go to court, but not to vote.
“Students don’t come to City Hall,” Wicks said. “When they came into register I asked ‘what is getting you jazzed?’ And they said ‘Bernie Sanders; anybody but Trump.’”
The number of student absentee ballots reached above 200 this year. In the previous five years, Wicks has registered four students to vote absentee.
“They seem to think that it’s only open to people that are older or disabled. But anyone can vote absentee,” Wicks said.
Wicks was worried that on the day of the primary, despite record setting registrations, MSU students would ignore the ballots. In previous primaries, some campus polling locations saw zero voters. The turnout on campus in 2016, however, yielded 40 ballots in one precinct and 70 ballots in another. And according to MSU’s Student Body President Domonique Clemons, those numbers can swing any election.
“There has been past local elections, even congressional races that have been won by a couple hundred votes,” Clemons said. “If all of campus votes, that’s 30,000 students.”
Clemons says this year’s presidential election is instilling passion and divisiveness into young people – a formulation that could strengthen the youth’s influence in future elections.
“Because of who the candidates are, this election is doing two things: It is firing up people and it is dividing people,” Clemons said. “The candidates are so polarized, and it’s driving students to be that polarized as well.”
Clemons devotes his time to Associated Students of Michigan State University, an organization of MSU students serving MSU students. ASMSU works with YouVote, a separate organization consisting of students, faculty and staff. YouVote encourages students to become aware and involved in voting.
“If your candidate drops out, we want to prevent that student from saying ‘I’m not going to vote again,” said 25-year-old YouVote member and Michigan State Grad Student Katrina Brundage. “We want to make sure students are having the opportunity to express their opinion.”
Richard Enbody, a Michigan State engineering professor, says the 2016 election is history repeating itself. He references the 1968 Democratic primaries, in which sitting Vice President Hubert Humphrey ran against anti-war, progressive Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy grabbed the delegate majority among the states, but ended up faltering to Humphrey in a contested Democratic convention.
Fast-forward 48 years and Hillary Clinton is playing the Hubert Humphrey role, and Bernie Sanders is playing the McCarthy role, according to Enbody.
Sanders, bolstered by his grassroots campaign, has captured the backing of young people across the nation. So much so that many refuse to dub Clinton the clear candidate if she ultimately edges Sanders for the nomination. Enbody compares that mentality to that of young people in 1968.
“The same people who wanted McCarthy didn’t want Humphrey at all. Humphrey was an old politician, just like Clinton. And that’s what she is. She’s politician,” Enbody said. “McCarthy was very idealistic, and the youth vote was behind him. He was a young and exciting guy.”
Considering those similarities, and how the ’68 election didn’t sustain a lasting effect in young people, Enbody says 2016 will be sheer emulation.
“It might piss them off because it certainly did in ’68,” Enbody said. “But it won’t make people go away from the democratic process.”
Bryn Williams, MSU vice president of governmental affairs and one of next year’s candidates for student body president, says this election has systematically tested young people. The candidates have preached policy change and promises that will directly impact young voters, and if they don’t unify, the same past mistakes will continue, Williams said.
“This election, for young people, has got to be a wake-up call, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on,” Williams said. “We’re seeing what the issues are that divide us, and I don’t necessarily know that’s been as prevalent in past elections. This one, it seems like the issues are a lot more volatile. It seems like there is a lot more energy, passion and frankly, anger. We can’t let that fundamentally undermine our political process by continuing to separate people. Which is what this election is doing: pulling people apart.”