Gen Z voter turnout

With 96% of precincts reporting election results in Arkansas, just over half of registered voters cast ballots in the 2022 midterms. Due to the link between voter turnout and income and education, trends in the U.S. have consistently shown that a majority of voters come from older generations.

Generation Z voters turn out in significantly lower numbers than the rest of the electorate, which can be attributed to low political efficacy, UA political science professor Janine Parry said. 

While some might be misled to think this issue is directly related to voters in the Gen Z population, low voter turnout among young people has been going on for a lot longer than people may think.

“It's always been a trend,” Parry said. “Largely because, especially in the United States, voter turnout is very, very much a product of income and education. The higher you are in that respect, usually, the more tools you have, including self-confidence, or what we call political efficacy.”

Generally, voter turnout during midterm election years is lower than voter turnout during presidential election years, according to Census data. In 2018, a midterm election year, 24% of individuals aged 18-24 voted, compared to 43% of all eligible voters in Arkansas. However, in 2020, a presidential election year, 32% of individuals 18-24 voted, compared to 54% of all eligible voters in the state.

Further, the state ranked 48th in the nation for voter turnout in 2020, according to data from the Arkansas Secretary of State.

Arkansas is unusual for a southern state in that it gives the people access to direct democracy through voting on specific issues, Parry said. There were four ballot measures in 2022, none of which succeeded.

There were three referred amendments from the legislature that were present on the ballot, Parry said. Although it is not all that unusual, there was also one initiated act placed on the ballot by petition.

“It's hard to imagine an election where more consequential things were happening, which always kind of disappoints me,” Parry said. “There's little interest in it because there's not a president on the ballot. These are actually the things that matter to most people's daily lives. But still, we'll be lucky to hit 40% turnout.”

Davis Ellman, a freshman studying business, did not vote this year because he is unsure of the impact of the midterm elections, he said.

“I honestly don't really know where to register,” Ellman said. “It hasn't been super accessible. I mean, I haven't really looked super hard, but, I don't know where to go.”

Some students at the UofA have educated themselves about the election and plan to exercise their right to vote.

Zach Ingle, a sophomore political science major from Farmington, said he voted in the election.

“I just feel like it's our right to do it and not necessarily a duty,” Ingle said. “So I think it's important that we just exercise that right when other people don't have the right to do it.”

While his parents always exercised their right to vote, Ingle came to the decision that voting was important through his studies of political science. He thinks voting is relevant because issues such as the economy will affect his life later on, so it is important he voices his opinion now, he said.

Although it was easy for Ingle to register to vote, his friends who are not voting had a harder time because they were out of state during the election, he said.

Mobility is a nationwide issue among young people that contributes to low voter turnout, Parry said. Young people tend to move around a lot, and it becomes difficult to figure out where to register to vote, when elections are and what is going on in them. The hyper-federated American system often requires people to register outside of where they are currently living.

“You don't have to pay money, really,” Parry said. “But it is costly in terms of the barriers that we put up to register and then to actually participate. And that's just a lot harder on mobile younger people”

The election this year dealt with issues that are relevant to students, including many things on the local level such as the legality of scooters, parking, recycling, locations of parks and taxation rates, Parry said.

Those issues took place in non-partisan city council races, meaning most students who do come out to vote probably did not vote on those particular candidates because they just do not feel well informed, Parry said. City council members make decisions that affect college students all the time without them even realizing it.

There are many resources that are available to students to educate themselves on campus to increase their political efficacy, Parry said. Students have free access to a New York Times subscription through the university and access to countless newspapers through the library database. The Associated Student Government has also made efforts to increase awareness about elections and to register voters.

Although the problem of low political efficacy among younger voters cannot be solved all at once, by educating themselves about the election and using the resources available to them on campus, students can increase awareness to use their voice in the decision making process of the country for future elections.

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