As Voter Turnout Increases Across the Board, Pelham Students Find Themselves More Politically Involved Than Ever Before

Aidan Cocuelle, Staff Reporter, Senior

This year’s highly contentious election brought with it a record-high voter turnout. According to The Washington Post, “More Americans voted in the 2020 election— two-thirds of the voting-eligible population — than in any other in 120 years.” 66.3% of eligible voters voted in 2020, “the highest turnout since 1900 when 73.7 percent of eligible Americans cast ballots.” On top of that, voter turnout and political interest have increased significantly amongst young people in this year’s election. According to an analysis done by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, young voter turnout has risen by as much as 8% compared to the 2016 election: “based on votes counted as of November 18, suggest that 52%-55% of voting-eligible young people, ages 18-29, cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election…we had previously estimated that youth voter turnout in 2016 was 42-44%”.

“Historically, the youth vote has always lagged behind other age groups. Our school has embraced the ‘Your Voice Matters’ message over the last few years and I can only hope that message translates into increased civic participation at the ballot box. Once 18 years old, all students can formally participate via the vote. The first step is to register to vote. NYS actually allows 16-17-year-olds to register early,” said government and politics teacher Mr. Sirico. “We will have to observe voter turnout rates for the next couple of elections to see if young people sustain their engagement in the political process…Young people need to maintain their engagement to preserve our political institutions,” Sirico continued.

A survey conducted by the aforementioned CIRCLE found that 79% of its participants said: “the pandemic has helped them realize that politics impact their everyday lives”.  A survey by The Pel Mel, in which 135 students participated, found that 60.7% of the participants felt that the pandemic has increased their political awareness and/or interest, while 90.3% in total said their interest in and/or awareness of politics increased overall during the pandemic.

Membership of political clubs has increased this year as well. Political clubs can be a great way for students to get involved in political discussions with their peers, as well as become more acquainted and educated with their systems of government. They can provide an outlet for people with a passion for politics to voice their ideas.

“Almost everyone is now vocal about politics.” said senior Daniel Dusevic, treasurer of the Young Republicans Club. “Both the Young Republicans Club and Young Democrats Club have grown due to current events such as election, the pandemic, and the civil unrest. Last year there was almost no vocalization of politics …recently people are vocalizing their opinions in school and social media…This is great for the future because we are approaching the age to vote and this new awareness allows people to be more informed.”

Since the 1960’s the young voter demographic has generally been low in relation to other age groups of voters. Could this new shift be a sign of a new era? A new characteristic of a young generation who choose to get involved in politics; a generation who — unlike their predecessors — are aware of their role in government and are of the weight their voices carry. 

The addition of social media platforms has revolutionized the way people connect with politics. We are living in an age where technology permits us to be accessible to one another wherever there is internet access. According to an analysis by Pew Research Center, “seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves”. A study at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania titled Social Media and Political Contributions: The Impact of New Technology on Political Competition observed political campaigns that adopted social media to reach their voter base and the support and campaign contributions they received. They found that “social media can intensify political competition by lowering costs of disseminating information for new entrants to their constituents and thus may reduce the barriers to enter politics.” An increasing number of politicians embraced social media as a way of keeping their constituencies informed. Our current President has set new precedents in his utilization of social media platforms to communicate with the public, and it now holds an instrumental role in government. To date, there has never been a President with a stronger Twitter presence.

 “Social media over these years has especially had an effect on us because virtually almost all of us are on it, with that it is a place for people to freely discuss their political opinions with those who agree or disagree…” said senior Jacob Campo, president of the Young Democrats Club. “I think it is wonderful seeing so many people interested in politics now and that there are plenty of places for people to feel comfortable expressing their views…there is both the Young Democrats Club as well as the Young Republicans Club in the school for [anyone] interested in joining.”