Experts hope young people on the streets will march to the polls

Some have concerns that young voters may not connect engagement on social issues with participation at the ballot box.

Megan Lynch
July 29, 2020 - 9:46 am

ST. LOUIS, MO (KMOX) - Since the death of George Floyd, younger adults have filled the streets and made their voices heard on social media.

The big question is whether that energy will take them to the ballot box.

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 "Protest is one of those tools that is available to people in a democracy, as is voting.  I think young people know that these tools are connected and I think that we'll see that translate on election day come November,"  says Theresa Kouo, Assistant Director for Civic Engagement Education at Washington University's Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.

People under 30 have historically voted at lower rates than older generations.   But In the most recent mid-term elections, the U.S. Census Bureau says voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds saw the biggest increase of any age group. 

Experts say getting younger Americans to the polls will take work, "Even though people are taking this action right now and ideally would turn out to vote, there are a few roadblocks that we hit in that not everyone is making the connection between the action that they're taking on the streets and the power that voting will have later," explains Lindsay Gasman, a recent Wash U grad, now working as a voter engagement fellow at the Gephardt Institute for civic and community engagement.

"I do see that translating into votes," says Naeem Jenkins-Nixon, Political Director for the Missouri Democratic Party, "and the key to that is making sure we connect their concerns with the folks who are on the ballot."   What if the candidates don't look like this potential group of voters, in age or diversity?   "While this person might not look like them, when they push and they bring their voices together in a collective, they can get change done,"  explains Jenkins-Nixon, "they can move a candidate to their way of thinking."

Parties say young voters aren't necessarily turned off by older candidates.  "They are supporting candidates like Trump and Biden who are in an age bracket that's probably closer to their grandparents' age," says Jean Evans, Executive Director of the Missouri Republican Party, "I don't think that they're dissuaded from voting for those candidates because of their age, race or gender, but we do hear they they would like to see a younger, more diverse group."

It's all in how the parties and candidates reach out to voters under 30.  More on that in our next report Thursday.

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