The coronavirus pandemic could actually finally change youth turnout in elections, according to a March For Our Lives cofounder and an expert in generational differences

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The coronavirus pandemic could actually finally change youth turnout in elections, according to a March For Our Lives cofounder and an expert in generational differences
In this April 7, 2020 photo, voters observe social distancing guidelines as they wait in line to cast ballots in the presidential primary election in Milwaukee.Associated Press
  • For years, the youth turnout rate has remained "low and stable," according to psychologist Jean Twenge.
  • But while there's talk every year of young voters finally turning out, Twenge said this election year really could be different.
  • David Hogg, cofounder of March For Our Lives, told Business Insider that voting is imperative for Gen Z, and that he will be fighting for the cause once stay-at-home orders are lifted.
  • But it's unclear what the 2020 election will look like during the pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
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As the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the daily lives of Americans, the 2020 election may seem like a faraway event. But the pandemic could invigorate voter turnout among a base that has historically remained stagnant: the elusive youth voters.

"Every presidential election year, there's a huge amount of talk about how this year is going to be different. This year, the young people are gonna turn out and vote and it just never happens," according to psychologist Jean Twenge, author of "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared."

Twenge told Business Insider that youth turnout has been "low and stable" for the last 25 to 30 years. Demographic data compiled by the United States Election Project tells a similar tale: turnout for Americans ages 18 to 29 generally hovers around 30% to 40%, with a notable increase to almost 50% in 2008.

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Even Michelle Obama has lamented how low youth turnout was after the 2008 election.

"I understand people who voted for Trump. But people who didn't vote at all, the young people, the women, that's when you think, 'man, people think this is a game,'" Obama said in "Becoming," her new Netflix documentary. "It wasn't just in this election but every midterm when Barack didn't get the Congress he needed, that was because our folks didn't show up. After all that work, they just couldn't be bothered to vote at all. That's my trauma."

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But it's possible that post-pandemic Gen Z could be the generation to buck that trend.

"Maybe this will be different," Twenge said. "I mean, this is an enormous cultural event. This is the biggest cultural event since World War II."

A Pew Research Center analysis found that 30% of those in Gen Z who are eligible to vote (ages 18 to 21) turned out for the 2018 midterm elections. In 2020, Gen Z will be 10% of eligible voters.

David Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor and cofounder of March For Our Lives, told Business Insider that the pandemic has shone a particular spotlight on the importance of voting — especially for Gen Zers who, despite paying their own bills, were claimed as dependents and didn't receive stimulus checks.

"For us, it has truly shown why voting matters, especially for young people," Hogg said in an email. "Without voting, and electing those accountable to the voices of young people, we are unable to be fought for when decisions like those are made. If 18 to 29-year-olds consistently voted at just 45%, [we] can work to elect decision-makers that fight for our futures and for us. When we come out of this stay-at-home, it is my goal to fight for that cause."

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One thing that remains unclear is what the 2020 election itself will look like. Concerns that President Donald Trump could unilaterally postpone it are unfounded, but in-person elections — like Wisconsin's election in early April — could further spread the coronavirus. And a November election could fall during another wave of viral spread.

"It might be the event that changes things in terms of turnout, but the difficulty is, you know, we may have logistical issues with that," Twenge said.

Wisconsin, which held its primary during the pandemic, saw about 31% of the eligible voting population turn out, according to FiveThirtyEight; it had a turnout rate of about 49% in the 2016 election.

But Wisconsin's election also showed that absentee voting may become more prevalent: around 80% of its votes were absentee ballots. Perhaps Gen Z will make voting, just like everything else, distanced.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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