As a Gen. Z kid who is projected to cast their first vote on a presidential ballot this fall, this campaign season has been more messy, confusing and migraine-inducing than I ever expected. While I know as a first-time voter, my opinion matters and will, for the first time be considered in our country, I still see teens under-represented and misinterpreted in the media.
With the pandemic crisis we are in right now, and an unsure future, it is more important than ever to give teens a platform to express their political opinions.
Many teens, including myself, were backing former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His platform included free college, higher taxes for the rich and free healthcare for all. However, amidst the coronavirus crisis, his platform shifted to raising money for COVID-19 relief and advocating for essential workers’ rights.
Can Biden Win Over Young Voters?
In April, Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign, leaving former Vice-President Joe Biden to be our only presidential candidate for the democratic party. According to a Harvard poll, young voters will turn up this fall to vote, due to general disapproval for Trump. However conflicting evidence has suggested that Joe Biden will have a problem getting a young people to vote. It seems like everybody wants to know what young voters are thinking — without actually wanting to pass the mic to young people.
It has become clear that young people have much to lose in this next election. Financial struggles during this pandemic have caused 63% of high school seniors to reevaluate the college of their choice. With Biden discreetly endorsing Bernie’s free college plan, in an attempt to get liberal young voters on his side, this has been a confusing and scary time for many of us. Before Sanders’ departure from the race on April 8, we were being told every single bad thing about Joe Biden in an attempt to get Sanders the nomination. Now, we are expected to ignore the glaring red flags in order to vote Trump out of office.
This situation has forced teens to take off their childish rose-tinted glasses and look at the world in a very real way. How are young voters feeling now? The general consensus: Meh.
Safety Nets, Back-Up Plans
Haley Henderson, 17, expresses her concerns about free college. “I knew that even if he won there was still a huge barrier to get those measures passed. I don’t necessarily think it’s totally unrealistic but I do think it’s hard.” Henderson originally supported businessman Andrew Yang because he “empowered Americans from the bottom up while having top-down safety mechanisms in place”.
However, with Biden snatching the nomination, she’s disappointed. Henderson highlights recent sexual assault alligations against Biden and his centralist platform, explaining, “It hurts that he has sexual assault allegations and we’re all just looking past them. It hurts that he’s running on a centralist platform, even though with a few exceptions in recent history, centrist platforms don’t win.”
While many young people’s pessimism about the future has come to a head, Henderson is choosing to look at a bright side. “I don’t think the results of this election necessarily changes the way I look at my future, but I also recognize the privilege in that.”
In addition to savings, Henderson has created her own good fortune by qualifying for Georgia’s HOPE scholarship and is going into college debt-free. But she has by no means had it easy.
“My family has gone through myriads of financial ups and downs,” she says. “My mom is a single parent and my dad doesn’t consistently pay his child support so I’m a little paranoid about my future. That paranoia has translated for me into making sure that I have safety nets and backup plans.”
‘Anyone Who Isn’t Trump’
Adam Dickerson, 18, has similar sentiments. He says he isn’t counting on free college any time soon. “I will have to believe it when I see it, I guess,” he says. And while Dickerson definitely isn’t jumping for joy with Biden’s presumptive nomination, he emphasizes that “anyone who isn’t Trump is promising.”
While Dickerson admits that his future has been at the forefront of his mind, the value of this time is not lost on him. He explains: “It’s like quarantine has created this kind of purgatory where I have time to breathe, reassess and figure out what I really want from life.”
While this has been a trying time, Dickerson may have a point. Today’s teens have faced more before turning 18 than previous generations have faced in a lifetime. While the ultimate effects of this quarantine are still unknown, it will almost certainly impact the course of our lives and future.
Although for most left-leaning teens, these past three and a half years have been hard, an unexpected outcome has been teens are more politically motivated than ever before.
And whatever happens next, the world will definitely be influenced by this next generation of young voters.