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The Youth Vote: Will They Show Up?

By Flora Gonska:

As the field previously full of Democratic candidates thinned, young people continued to show their support for Bernie Sanders, yet in the end Joe Biden came out ahead. In 2016 and again in 2020, Sanders counted on young people voting for him, but voter turnout among young folks actually declined in some states on Super Tuesday. While young folks across the country and across the globe have been vocal about the issues they’re facing, that has not brought them out to the polls. As a registered voter and Democrat, I’m sad to not see more of my fellow young(ish) people following through with our demands for systemic governmental change. But as a chronic optimist, I have my fingers crossed. While we wait to see the exact outcome of the DNC, let’s talk about how we got here and how we move forward regardless of candidates.

Young people have, historically, voted less than their older counterparts, and the 2020 primaries are confirming that is still true. Young people have mobilized for so many issues, especially during the past four years. One person I spoke with recently told me about her distrust of the system. We talked about how when so many facets of a country let citizens down at every turn, becoming discouraged is so easy. Like many Gen Z folks, she and I have experienced event after event our whole lives that have shown us just how broken the U.S. government is.

From incarceration to healthcare, young people feel let down by a country that bills itself as progressive and of the people.

The result for people that are intersectionally disadvantaged is a lack of support from and trust of the U.S. government. And it’s warranted: voter rolls have been purged, polling locations in poor and minority communities have been closed, and those are just the subtle examples. The current administration has taken aim at minorities and the under-represented countless times. Along with the lack of faith in the government, lack of education in how, where, and when to vote seems to me a big issue holding back young people.

Not long ago, so many campaigns appeared to have so much promise. When the debates began, there wasn't nearly enough space on stage for all the candidates. Joe Biden had numerous faux pas, and Twitter jeered as he fumbled turns of phrase and misquoted statistics. The sense I got online was that many young people almost didn’t consider him an option. Perhaps clouded by their love of candidates such as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Millennials and Gen Z folks set their sights on people who have never been in line for the presidency. Following Super Tuesday, however, it was clear that Democrats who made it to the polls are highly in favor of Biden. Perhaps his former proximity to the office makes him more electable to more experienced voters, maybe his (slightly) more centrist views drew in voters that are right-leaning progressives. Time will give us those answers, but I’m left to wonder what the ultimate impact will be.

I’m going to be completely honest and admit my part in how we got here. I voted for Elizabeth Warren. When I cast my ballot, I felt great about it. I’ve been following Warren for years now, and in addition to her personal experience, her professional and political experience told me she was a great candidate that could really do good in the Oval Office. After the results from Super Tuesday and beyond trickled in, my feelings soured. I don’t think any less of her as a person or as a candidate, but knowing what I know now, I would vote differently.

On TikTok, young folks recorded videos set to audio with the refrain “Please don’t make me vote for Joe Biden, please don’t make me vote for Joe Biden.”

As silly as it may sound, this really resonated with me; I intend to do everything in my power to get Trump out of office, but voting for Biden would feel like such a letdown.

I assume that I don’t need to explain why Sanders is so popular among young citizens, but I’ll recap. Across both his career and his campaign, Sanders has had strong stances that are in line with the reality young people are living. Astronomical healthcare costs, student loans that take a lifetime (and sometimes more) to pay off, and seeing the merciless accumulation of wealth by the ultra-rich have plagued Gen Z voters their whole lives. Bernie systematically addressed one area of concern after another. Finally, young people had a candidate who seemed fit for 2020 (and 2016—I’m not at all bitter), although he’s another old white guy. Somehow it feels okay to put ANOTHER white man in The Oval because he’s just so on top of it. Biden, while once a heartbeat away from the office, has never felt as in touch with young people as Bernie has for years, making Sanders the gut choice for many Gen Z and Millennial voters alike.

Biden is, to me, a prime example of what is wrong with the DNC and the two-party system that continues to divide citizens and steal precious time, energy, and resources from areas that need serious attention from the government. As the accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden has become harder to sweep under the rug, Biden and his campaign have done a terrible job responding. Last year, as reports of inappropriate touching, behavior, and comments were compiled, Biden spoke about how social norms have changed. As the accusations from Tara Reade have developed, the campaign—which has made a point of supporting that women should be listened to—has flatly denied that any such events took place. While Trump may have 12 credible accusations to Biden’s 1, I’m left feeling more disappointed in Democrats than ever. How is it that the progressives of the U.S. can so quickly overlook such serious allegations? Of course, no candidate will be perfect, but is Biden really the best person for the job, or just the one with the best name recognition?

This election cycle has been an absolute rollercoaster. I’ve been up, down, and all around.

Coming off years of Trump’s lying and gaslighting, hearing progressive voices talk about what they would do given the opportunity has been invigorating.

Following Super Tuesday, I am more determined than ever to talk to fellow Gen Z voters and to register more and get them to the polls.

There is no going back, and without dramatic changes to the operation of the U.S., the future looks bleak. For a supposed “World Leader,” the United States feels decades behind on so many global issues.

I see two paths forward:

  1. We vote the lesser of two evils into office and hopefully see some positive changes over four years.

  2. Another term for Trump cements a disdain for the government in the hearts and minds of young people, pushing us closer to revolutionary reform in the near future.

So reader, if you haven’t, please register to vote. Help a young person register to vote and see if they have questions about the process you can answer.

And for all of our sakes, GET TO THE POLLS IN NOVEMBER!


A Cleveland, OH, native, Flora Gonska is a non-binary trans woman from a big family. She's a writer, video producer/editor, and artist. An avid supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and equality movement, she has lived in Los Angeles for three years, and she's involved in and enjoys writing on politics, the LGBTQ+ community, and life in the U.S.

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