OPINION | Debate fails to engage young voters

Anna Dixon, Contributing Writer

Tulane students are unsure of their political future.

 

Following the presidential debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, Google searches in the U.S. spiked on how to move out of the country, most notably to New Zealand and Canada. The continuous interruptions and complete avoidance of questions that occurred throughout the debate left little room for voters to feel optimistic about the coming election and the future of American democracy. 

 

Introspection became a common theme during the coronavirus lockdown that accompanied, leading many Americans to reflect upon U.S. politics. In particular, systemic racism received the deepest investigation, following the murder of George Floyd. In the two weeks after his death, the Black Lives Matter hashtag was used approximately 48 million times on social media platforms. The younger generations took to social media to spread awareness, share petitions and demand long-overdue change. The death of an unarmed Black person by a police officer has become an all too common occurance in America, but the sustained outrage following the murder of George Floyd resembled the sentiments reiterated during the Civil Rights Movement on a scale not seen since the 1960s. 

While it appeared as though the time to address the ever-present issue of systemic racism and injustice arrived, little legislation was passed despite nationwide demands. The presidential debate on Sept. 29 was a great disappointment to the momentum created by Black Lives Matter and failed to even slightly reflect the passion of the American youth. Notably, President Donald Trump refused to denounce white supremacists when blatantly asked to do so.

 

While racial inequality appears to be on the forefront of everyone’s minds, the nature of social media is, in truth, a polarizing force. Three out of four Americans believe that posting on social media makes one feel as though they are making a difference when they actually are not. Individuals are more likely to follow those who share their opinions, so posting political views is effectively yelling into an echo chamber. 

Importantly, social media users receive targeted advertisements based on their political convictions, reinforcing their beliefs. Therefore, people independently invested in the Black Lives Matter movement are more likely to be exposed to information about it than those who are not.

Within the Tulane community, outrage over the obvious incidents of racial discrimation on campus grew as the Instagram account @BlackatTU gained popularity. People of color and allies alike shared the firsthand accounts of Black students to their Instagram stories. The Tulane Black Student Union then wrote an open letter to the administration with numerous well-defended demands to improve racial equality on campus. The demands were shared by countless Tulane students, but the administration has still yet to respond. 

 

In the nearing presidential election, 37% of eligible voters will be millennials and members of Generation Z, roughly equivalent to the proportion of voters that are baby boomers and pre-boomers. This young electorate is generally more concerned with social issues such as racial inequality, the coronavirus response, and climate change than older voters. The question remains of how many young voters will cast a ballot. 

Young people have notoriously low voter turnout rates. However, they have increased since the beginning of the Trump administration; 40% of college students voted in the 2018 midterm elections in comparison to only 19% in 2014. The future of the election rides on the ability of young voters to navigate the election process during a pandemic, creating an unknown terrain for many students.

A clear anti-Trump sentiment is present on the Tulane campus among those who publicly declare their party affiliation. Despite this, there are still a large number of students who do not publicly advertise their political views. Usually, they remain private because their values do not align with left-leaning members of the community or they are simply uninterested in domestic politics. Consequently, discussing the upcoming election and important issues outside of the digital sphere often feels like navigating a minefield.

That being said, 70% of college students nationwide plan to vote for Joe Biden, but only half of these voters are excited about the Democratic Party candidate. Voting for Biden is simply voting against Trump. The students that fall into this category at Tulane lean into humor in order to cope with the looming sense of doom for our future. These jokes tend to be counterproductive and instead they decrease the gravity of issues. 

The performance of both candidates in the debate did not command respect, but it seemed as though their goal was to make a joke of it. It left viewers questioning whether either politician will be able to address the coronavirus pandemic or adequately appoint a Supreme Court justice that will decide on cases for the coming decades. If we continue to choose candidates solely to appease voters instead of inspire them, American society will not progress.