As the world has seen in recent weeks, high schoolers and undergraduate students have been taking the world by storm with their involvement in political advocacy. Students from around the world have shown themselves to have an avid interest in the political climate, driven by factors such as climate change, gender discrimination and immigration laws. During the 2018 midterms, thousands of people aged into the system and registered to vote in numbers that had not been seen in 25 years. 

In a report by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, numbers of undergraduate voters doubled since 2014. The report was based on data gathered from more than 1,000 campuses across the U.S and showed that 39.1% of students participated in the midterm election process. This number is up 20% from the number of students that reported voting in the 2014 midterm election.

That is why in the race towards the 2020 election, constituents have had to tap many resources to connect with their younger constituents. The Democratic debate on Thursday, Sept. 12, with the ten front-running candidates, put the candidates to the test. 

One of the major policies on the debate state that intrigues undergraduate students is the discussion of free college tuition, as well as loan forgiveness. The average college graduate has almost $40,000 worth of student debt, and many students have both federal and private loans. Combining the extreme risk that taking on thousands of dollars’ worth of debt with an unstable job market, students and high school graduates face an ever-widening chasm that discourages pursuing a higher education degree.

Because of the cost of higher education, when Sen. Bernie Sanders talks about free two and four year college programs, it gets people’s attention.

Even though candidates have talked about issues that matter to undergraduate voters, one of the biggest issues is connecting to the younger demographic.

Liam Kent of the UMaine College Democrats noted that the older candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders don’t get as much attention from college students as their younger rivals. He also noted that, with the fight for gender equity, students like seeing female candidates holding their own on the debate stage. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has admittedly had some rough patches in her political career, has garnered quite a following, as has Sen. Kamala Harris.

Because of the current political climate, many younger voters are extremely educated on the factors that have led up to and continue to affect both the Republican and the Democratic Parties.

Declan Downey, the vice president of the UMaine College Democrats, noted that people are very aware of how the Democratic Party has shifted its policy goals since 2016.

“The conversations being had about healthcare, America’s wars, massive income inequality and many other issues reflect a Democratic Party that is beginning to understand [the need to shift policy goals],” Downey notes.

As the 2020 election looms closer, projections anticipate that there will be a tsunami of newly registered voters. In 2016, 139 million people turned out on election day to cast their ballot. Some projections say that the number of voters could reach 156 million for the 2020 election.

“We are the most powerful voting block,” Kent said, urging his peers to stay politically aware and active.

UMaine will be providing a voter registration table on the Mall on National Voter Registration Day, Tuesday, Sept. 24.