MINNEAPOLIS – Thousands of people are living on college campuses across America as they vote for the first time on Tuesday. As the races tighten in Minnesota, student attendance could be decisive.
Student turnout across the country has soared in recent elections, reaching a record high in 2020.
But during midterms, like this year, fewer people tend to vote than in presidential years. Still, in 2018, Minnesota had the highest student turnout in the country, according to data from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts.
Attendance that year was over 50% at many Minnesota campuses, with some seeing attendance exceeding 60%. Young voters across the country aged 18 to 29 saw the largest increase in midterm vote turnout from 2014 to 2018.
“In any case, there’s a widespread myth or misconception that young people, especially college students, don’t care about politics or elections, as if they just don’t have the time or energy for it,” said Carter Yost, 21, a student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Deputy Director of Youth Organization of the DFL. “Part of what we’ve seen this year and what we’ve seen over the years is that it just isn’t true.”
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Yost expects Minnesota students to break records again this year, and believes national trends will increase as well. He attributes the increased interest to “the stakes of the moment” and cites the 2016 election and the Trump administration as a catalyst for participation.
Issues he hears about fueling Democrats: affordability of school, climate change, and the future of abortion rights.
“If you’re a student aged 18-25, any election you’ve been allowed to vote for is the most important of your life,” he said. “Young people will determine a huge number of races in this state and across the country this year.”
Jacob Ringstad, vice president of the Minnesota College Republicans and a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth, agrees that student attendance could affect different races in state and federal offices.
He notes that what sometimes keeps people from the ballot box are barriers to entry — not knowing how to register, how to vote absent, and “the stress of having to plan that again.”
“I hear all the time, ‘oh I’m only one vote, am I really going to change an election?’” said Ringstad, 22. “Well, if you have a bunch of people who think they only have one vote — if they being able to come out to vote can change things. It can change the course of an election and the direction of the country.”
He said he heard from students supporting GOP candidates that energy prices, cost of living and crime are the main issues motivating them to vote.
“We’re seeing a lot more students being a little bit more daring — like, ‘Yeah, I really don’t like the way things are going now and it’s got to the point where I can’t sit back anymore,’” he said.
The 2020 election had a 21st-century record turnout of nearly 67%, according to data from the US Census Bureau. But Americans ages 18 to 24 followed older voters in their participation. Among college students, turnout was 66%, according to a Tufts University report that analyzed more than 1,000 schools.