From left: Laura, Nathan, and Jocelyn.
Photo: Courtesy of the subjects
More than half of American adults plan to cast ballots in November, but only a third of people ages 18 to 29 say they will. Here, 12 young adults on why they probably won’t vote. (See also: Many reasons why you really, really should.)
2016 was such a disillusioning experience. Going into the election, I was so proud to be in this country at this moment, so proud to be voting for Hillary Clinton. I had my Clinton sweatshirt on all day. I was on Twitter telling people that if they didn’t vote they were dead to me — like the whole thing. Watching the results come in, it was just disheartening. My faith in the whole system was crushed pretty quickly. That was the first general election I could vote in, too.
Those actual full-progressive candidates make me optimistic. But there’s still a lot of powerful people, especially in the Democratic Party, that are centrists, and that’s just a little frustrating when it comes time to stand up to this president and the policies he’s trying to pass. Like the Kavanaugh thing — I get that they’re the minority and that was an uphill battle, but I just feel like there wasn’t a big enough fight put up to that, and I think there continues to not be a big enough fight.
Full disclosure: I have a ballot sitting at home. In 2016, I voted absentee and I just marked off “Send me a mail-in ballot for every election.” I don’t really get that argument that it’s really hard. Like, it’s not that hard.
I think there’s a way to be an informed nonvoter. I’d rather have an informed nonvoter than an uninformed voter going in and making a choice they don’t understand. You’re voting for a politician going into office, and I’m seeing less change there than I am through grassroots organizing. Since Trump’s been elected, those grassroots groups have really been doing great, great work. So I guess it’s that: where you’re seeing the impact.
In my senior year in high school, I was probably borderline socialist. Though I don’t really think I understood what a socialist was. I was blatantly liberal and didn’t bother to check myself. My friend gave me The Prince, by Machiavelli. I read that, and it provided a certain nuance that I didn’t have. From there, I read more, and I realized that a lot of things I’d thought before were wrong. I got into Hellenism. I read Cicero, Livy. Later on, I got into Voltaire. Then, in college, my field is American politics and political science. I prefer constitutional law and Alexander Hamilton.
There are things that I’m aware of where I’m certain I’m right. But for most things, although I feel strongly, it’s very probable that there’s some aspect of this that I don’t understand. Somebody provides a new avenue of thought, and it changes the way I think about something. I never felt certain enough to vote. But I’m a political-science student, and the talk of voting is really big in my circle of friends. In 2016, I almost did. Of course, I’m not a big fan of Trump, but I didn’t know if Trump was going to be a flash in the pan or — I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to help something that might end up being wrong.
I tried to register for the 2016 election, but it was beyond the deadline by the time I tried to do it. I hate mailing stuff; it gives me anxiety. I don’t remember seeing voter-registration drives, no. I’ve seen a lot more the past two years. I’m sure there must have been stuff. I just don’t remember it.
I guess I still thought, Okay, my vote is largely symbolic in this election because I’m in Texas. Even if Texas went blue, I’m pretty sure my vote wouldn’t matter anyway. Austin is very liberal, but it’s very gerrymandered.
The House district I’m in goes GOP every election, which is ridiculous. I was particularly interested in voting in 2016 because Donald Trump is so stupid. It drove me up a wall — he knew way less about the government than I do.
I have ADHD, and it makes it hard for me to do certain tasks where the payoff is far off in the future or abstract. I don’t find it intrinsically motivational. The amount of work logically isn’t that much: Fill out a form, mail it, go to a specific place on a specific day. But those kind of tasks can be hard for me to do if I’m not enthusiastic about it. That’s kind of a problem with social attitudes around, you know, “It’s your civic duty to vote.” I once told a co-worker I didn’t vote, and she said, “That’s really irresponsible,” in this judgmental voice. You can’t build a policy around calling people irresponsible. You need to make people enthusiastic and engaged.
After 2016, a couple friends became a lot more politically active, and they helped me register and mail the form. So I actually am registered now. I’m leaning toward probably voting in the midterms. It feels like the reason to vote is symbolic. The motivation isn’t about the actual value my vote has; it’s more like a theoretical signaling value. If that’s the case, I would rather signal that Democrats should have more progressive candidates, rather than assuming that everyone on the left will automatically vote for the candidates they run. In the end, whether I vote probably depends on how close the candidates are.
I rent and move around quite a bit, and when I try to get absentee ballots, they need me to print out a form and mail it to them no more than 30 days before the election but also no less than seven days before the election. Typically, I check way before that time, then forget to check again, or just
say “Fuck it” because I don’t own a printer or stamps anyway. It’s incredibly difficult for hourly workers or young people who are in rotational programs or travel frequently for their careers to vote. I wish every state’s rules were the same so there was not so much confusion and it was easy to find straightforward information on how exactly to get absentee ballots.
I feel like the Democratic Party doesn’t really stand for the things I believe in anymore. Why should I vote for a party that doesn’t really do anything for me as a voter? Millennials don’t vote because a lot of politicians are appealing to older voters. We deserve politicians that are willing to do stuff for our future instead of catering to people who will not be here for our future. I’m a poli-sci major, so talking about politics is a daily thing for me. Half of the people I talk to seem very into voting. The other half are people who, like me, don’t really feel represented. The only thing they choose to vote in is local elections.
In high school, I didn’t even know our vice-president’s name was Joe Biden. All my high-school classmates were Republicans. They were very vocal about it, especially during the whole Romney-and-Obama election. I realized I didn’t believe everything they were saying. Then I Googled “Republican versus Democrat,” and I like kinda both, kinda not. That’s why I’m an Independent. It wasn’t till the Trump-versus-Hillary election that I realized how important it is to vote. Maybe it had to do with, like, society and all. Everyone I was following was like, “Go out to vote.” I was in college in Massachusetts. I decided that I wasn’t gonna go through that long process for an out-of-state student to register to vote. I had a hectic schedule. I just didn’t have the time and energy. Also I didn’t know how my parents would feel about that whole thing, ’cause my brother does not vote either. So it wasn’t asked if they could help us out with the registration and mailing all the forms to us. My mom is a Republican, my dad is a Democrat, and I did not learn that until the 2016 election, after begging them to tell me at least what their party was.
I realized that I should’ve voted afterward. Ever since that election,
I started turning on not just CNN but also Fox News on the iPhone news app. I plan to vote in 2020. I have a goal set to know more about politics by that time.
I volunteered for Bernie Sanders. I went to many rallies, I was at the first presidential debate in Las Vegas. But when he folded, then immediately went and defended Hillary, a person who he’s been campaigning against for 18 months, that just really killed it for me. I just have no respect for that. It’s the same thing on the other side. Look at Ted Cruz, who’s spent his last two years being made fun of by Donald Trump, and then we see Trump saying Cruz is the right guy in Texas to go against Beto O’Rourke. It’s just so much political theater, and it really just turned me off entirely.
I wasn’t planning to vote in 2016. I was with my mom, we were at Albertsons grocery store around the corner from my house, and they were in there voting. My mom voted, and it took her literally ten seconds. She said, “You should do it,” and I said, “I don’t know, I don’t really think I want to.” And she was like, “Aaron, it just took a minute.” So I said, “Okay, fine.” I just voted for Hillary. I felt bad about it for two years.
I look at it this way: That report just came out the other day about global warming, talking about how we have 12 years, until 2030, for this radical change unlike the world has ever seen. And The Hill newspaper just put out that article about how the DNC does not plan on making climate change a big part of their platform, even still. I just do not understand why I would vote for a party that doesn’t care about me in any way. They can say, “Sure, we’ll lower student interest rates.” Well, I don’t give a shit about student interest rates if I’m not going to live past 13 more years on this planet. Everyone on Twitter can be like, “Oh, we need the Democratic Senate to pack the courts.” But have they watched the Democratic Party at any time during my lifetime? They have not done anything. Like, they don’t stand for anything. And I just don’t see the point anymore.
There are people that are exciting. Bernie was exciting, Cynthia [Nixon] was exciting, and Alexandria [Ocasio-Cortez] is exciting. So would I vote in the future? I don’t know. If somebody came along that was exciting like that? Yeah. Probably.
I’m trying to register in my hometown of Austin, Texas. It’s such a tedious process to even get registered in Texas, let alone vote as an absentee. There’s no notification service about the status of my voter registration. There’s a small, outdated website where you can enter your information and check. When I was at the post office to register, this poor girl, clearly also a college student like me, didn’t know what “postmarked” meant and had no idea how to send an important document by mail. Most people my age have zero need to go to the post office and may have never stepped into one before. Honestly, if someone had the forms printed for me and was willing to deal with the post office, I’d be much more inclined to vote.
I vote when I feel like I have to. But I mostly consider it something that sucks a lot of people’s time and energy away from actually building power with the people around them.
New York especially has a pretty vibrant tenant-organizing scene. You see organizing around community gardens, around people protesting new development going in, people working against rezoning. Regardless of the outcome of those things, I think people leave with a sense of empowerment. You might have failed this fight, but now you know your neighbor. Now you have a whole network you can call up the next time this happens. But if you lose an election, or the candidate you’re pushing loses, then what do you have after that? You have this kind of despair for the next two or four or whatever years.
If we get to a blue wave in the midterms and then things just continue on, people will feel deflated and check out. Which is why I think you’ve got to have something besides just strategic voting, or people resigning themselves to a candidate they don’t love but who is at least a Democrat.
In 2008, I was extremely enthusiastic to vote for Barack Obama. But over the years, I started to understand the electoral system as exactly how I’ve characterized it. For a while, I thought it was an immoral act to vote. It means that we’re giving our approval to a system that I totally do not want to validate. Over the years, I’ve started to think maybe we don’t have to frame this so much as an individual act with these moral consequences and that I need to stop being so dramatic about it. So, for instance, I voted for Cynthia Nixon in the primary recently. I teach at CUNY. Insofar as she was in a position where she could have been elected and made a difference in this, yes, I’ll take the five minutes out of my day to go vote. But it’s not something that we should, as a society, be making the horizon of our political organizing.
My polling place is at the end of my block. It takes no time at all; it’s an extremely easy process. But I think that’s also what makes it seem sort of alienating and anticlimactic. You go in and you’re like, “This is the climax of democracy,” like, the sticker on my chest is the climax of democracy.
It was easier to get my medical-marijuana card — not a right, or even federally legal — than it was to register to vote. Massachusetts had online registration but only if you have a DMV-issued ID. I don’t drive, so I was like, okay, I can register in person, but I’m also dealing with a chronic illness. Every day is a guessing game: Am I going to feel up to doing anything today? I put it off. The week before the deadline, I ended up being really sick and I wasn’t able to leave home. You can send in your registration by mail, but I didn’t have stamps. I kept thinking that I shouldn’t have to jump through this many hoops to register. Back in July, I’d gotten a medical-marijuana card to treat my chronic illness. The entire thing is done online — it’s the same requirements as registering to vote.
Growing up, going to Catholic school, everything we learned had a skew on it. Whenever we were taught about voting or political issues, it was not about learning the issues and matching what you feel personally, it was, “This is what the Catholic Church teaches, and this is how you should vote or you’re wrong.” I think that shaped me to hate politics and not want to be involved.
The idea of leaving work, forwarding all of my calls to my phone, to go stand in line for four hours, to probably get called back to work before I even get halfway through the line, sounds terrible. I would have to tell work, “Hey, I’m not coming in until noon today,” and in the end, if it’s not something I’m extremely passionate about, do I want to spend four hours of vacation doing something I don’t quite want to do?
There are issues I care about: immigration, access to health care. Women’s reproductive rights is a big one — because I could never imagine taking away anyone else’s choice.
You’re not prepared for all the candidates. You’re sent things in the mail, but as a 28-year-old, I read everything online. I love that literally everyone is promoting actually registering to vote, but it’s never how to vote or the steps to voting or what you do next after you’ve registered to vote. After that, it kind of just drops off and you’re left in the dark, like, I don’t know what to do next, you know?
My parents are of the generation where they actually watch the news, and they know about candidates via the news. Where my generation, the millennial generation, is getting all their news from social media like Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, and that is not always the best. Reading things through social media is snippets, and it’s not the whole details on everything, you know?
It’s a wild theory, but setting voting up so that it’s all on social media, putting all that information in just an Instagram Story, in a Snapchat filter or whatever — bulleted-out, easy-to-read, digestible content — would encourage me to vote. Just maybe it’s a social-media page or an Instagram page where it gives daily facts about how to do things or DIYs on how to vote for yourself, something like that. Just to make it easily digestible to a younger audience that’s on social media, ’cause that’s how they digest their information.
*A version of this article appears in the October 29, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!