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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

From Apathy to Action: Reinvigorating the Youth Vote in 2024

Ahead of the fast-approaching 2024 election, it is crucial that we both acknowledge the steep decline in young voters and understand how to utilize civics education in order to counteract it.
Allegra Lief
Oscar Allen ’25 and Sebastian Merkatz ’25 hand out Voter Registration cards as a part of their Pre-Registration Drive at Bronx Science this past April 2024.

Young people in America have historically held an aversion for national politics, but the 2020 election mobilized our youth like never before. Almost 55% of eligible 18-25 year olds casted a ballot in 2020, up from a mere 42% in 2016. 

In context, such a significant increase is understandable. In 2020 Donald Trump put everything Americans knew and cherished at risk: our democracy, our climate and our inalienable freedoms. The soul of America seemed to be the price of another Donald Trump term, and many young voters wouldn’t sit by and pay for it.

That is not the case in 2024. After four years of a Joe Biden presidency, many young voters, many of whom watched the 2020 election unfold as teenagers, feel the uncontrollable urge to disengage from politics. They are confused by today’s intense partisanship and are simply hungry for change that isn’t materializing. 

This is heightened by the fact that many young Americans feel unrepresented in today’s Congress and silenced by legislators who are supposed to be their advocates. The average age of Senators at the beginning of the 111th Congress was 62.9 years old, and both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are well over 75, the two oldest presidential candidates in American history. This significant disconnect between politicians and Gen Z Americans only motivates more Americans to turn away from what they see as fruitless politics.

These factors are crucial in understanding the troubling decline in youth political engagement in 2024. It is essential that we both mobilize members of the existing 18-25 year old electorate, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2020, and continue to show them that the stakes in 2024 are just as high. 

Yet, it is unrealistic to expect that we will surpass or even meet our 2020 youth political engagement without significant societal change backing it. 2020 was a special circumstance with a president, Trump, who was uniquely despised by a broad swath of people, including young people, nonwhite voters, working class women and urban professionals. Amidst today’s turmoil, many young Americans have forgotten Trump’s destructive four years in office, in which he single handedly appointed the most conservative court in history, reversed critical climate legislation and restricted democratic freedoms. Thus, they are less likely to show up again to vote for Joe Biden and defeat him.

This is in large part due to the deeply-rooted issues that continue to hold back young American voters. In particular, the troubling lack of civics education prompts young people to abstain from the democratic process, and makes them the lowest voting electorate in America. 

There is significant research showing the correlation between education and civic involvement, including  that government education in high school through both classes and clubs raises a person’s likelihood to vote for over a decade following graduation. Unfortunately, many high schoolers in America aren’t given the opportunity to gain such crucial knowledge and gain the necessary information to cast a ballot. 

Directly addressing this large, longstanding deficit in civics education is admittedly complicated. However, there are many ways programs both inside and outside of schools can chip away at the amount of uneducated teens, raise the young voter turnout, and hopefully defeat Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election come November. 

One significant way to do this  is by hosting young voter education nights, voting drives, and other political events that are centered around engaging young Americans.

Voting in America can be incredibly challenging to navigate. Many young people don’t understand the different ways to vote, both in person and at home, how the electoral college works, and even how to register to vote at all, simply because they were never taught any of it in school or at home. In fact, almost 60% of young voters today report that they don’t feel well qualified to participate in politics. 

That is where registration and education drives come in; hosted by teens and presented in a way that  targets young people, they can help ordinary high schoolers gain the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to confidently cast a ballot. 

One such event was hosted at Bronx Science by Sebastian Merkatz ’25 and Oscar Allen ’25 this past April 2024. Both students are politically active, and after interning at a councilman’s office and leading the Young Democrats club, they wanted to empower their peers to make a difference in politics by hosting a voter pre-registration drive. 

To Merkatz and Allen, pre-registering was a crucial step to making sure the Bronx Science community was involved in the democratic process. “By pre-registering, young people can avoid the last minute rush and potential barriers that might prevent them from casting their ballots in the next election cycle,” explained Merkatz. “It is a vital educational experience.”

After meeting with several school administrators and securing hundreds of voter registration cards from the Bronx Board of Elections, Merkatz and Allen were able to host a fully functioning voter registration table in the back of the cafeteria over the course of two days. The drive was a big success, and in the end, over 250 Bronx Science students registered or pre-registered to vote. 

Such an event should be a template for other politically active students around the country who wish to make a difference in their communities. It is essential that those who already understand the political process help their fellow students attain the same critical knowledge and confidence to vote once they come of age. 

Yet it is also the responsibility of schools to teach their students about voting and the American government through mandatory civics classes. While some states put an emphasis on civics education (including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois and Montana), most states don’t require any civics education to graduate. 

Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle where unprepared Americans are leaving high school without the necessary education about their government. Thus, we need high school students and administrators to lobby their schools to institute civics education and “crash courses” in the upcoming school year and going forward so students feel prepared and excited to vote. 

Information about our government isn’t the only crucial knowledge that we have to instill in teenagers and young people who are soon eligible to vote. In school, we are taught extensively about the American past, but young voters also need to have a grasp on current domestic issues, politicians, and foreign affairs in order to make informed decisions. 

Many people shy away from politics because they have no knowledge of the issues plaguing Americans today and thus don’t grasp the importance of casting a vote. They may view current affairs as “adult issues,” when in reality modern day problems, including climate change, the restriction of reproductive rights and the long lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have profoundly affected young people as well.

Thus, it is imperative that schools and teens educate unaware students and encourage them to peruse newspapers, videos, and more in order to attain a solid base of knowledge about the world around them before voting. Young people need to know that their voice matters, and that they have the chance to use their democratic voice to change the issues around them and make a difference. 

While it is true that voting rates among young people are stubbornly low, it is not the time to give up or hang our heads.  Our democratic process is so precious, and young people are an invaluable part of the coalition to protect it. As a society, we must take immediate action, shoring up support for President Biden ahead of such a crucial election and creating a long lasting increase in the amount of young people prepared to vote. Only then will we see true, tangible change. 

It is essential that we both mobilize members of the existing 18-25 year old electorate, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2020, and continue to show them that the stakes in 2024 are just as high. 

About the Contributor
Allegra Lief, Staff Reporter
Allegra Lief is a Copy Chief for The Science Survey and is responsible for the review and revision of her peers' articles prior to publication. Through her writing, Allegra hopes to convey her love of  art history, politics and current events.  Allegra has always recognized the value of journalistic writing in shedding light on untouched truths and allowing readers to connect with cultures and pressing topics that would otherwise not be in their orbit. She also believes in the power of good photography; it helps to personalize the people discussed in a piece and brings to life the complex emotions and storylines discussed. In her free time, you can find Allegra curled up with a good book, walking around the city with friends, or exploring an art museum or gallery with anyone who will accompany her. In college, Allegra plans to study international relations, history and political science, but hopes to intertwine her love of journalism with any future career she might pursue.