On election day, VCU millennials look to flex political capacity

Photo by Matt Leonard
Photo by Matt Leonard
Photo by Becca Schwartz

As Virginia’s millennials come of age — the demographic, which comprises of a third of eligible voters — is in position to play a key role in Tuesday’s statewide elections.

Millennials, which the Pew Research Center describe as being between 18 and 35 in 2016, surpassed the now second-largest demographic, Baby Boomers, who are in the 52-70 age group.

Tim Cywinski, director of engagement at Virginia21 a non-partisan organization working to increase civic engagement amongst young voters said millennials are more focused on the issues than commitment to political parties.

This characteristic is important to political candidates, as it can sway a large population of voters in either direction, Cywinski said.  

“If we are the largest voting demographic, and if the parties and candidates don’t start paying more attention to our issues and to our concerns then they can’t win,” Cywinski said.

Virginia has historically had a higher turnout among young voters compared to other states.

“I think a lot of that stems from the fact that there isn’t a lot of inclusion from the millennial perspective in the larger political dialogue,” Cywinski said. “When we hear about these stereotypes that young people don’t care about politics, well we’re actually showing them that we do.”

Over 60 percent of VCU students voted in the 2016 presidential election, which is higher than the national average of 50.4 percent, according to The National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement by the Institute of Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University.

Some of the hot-button issues that have rallied young adults to get to the polls include immigration, climate change, reproductive rights and mass incarceration in the United States.

“I think state elections are very important because we live in this state and we are apart of the community and we always want the community to grow and improve,” said Malaz Elamin, a junior. “As the youth we are the future of tomorrow and we need to do whatever we can to make sure where we live is safe and it full of opportunities for all people.”

Robert Kasaizi Burris, a junior studying electrical engineering, volunteered with the Democratic campaign last year during the presidential election. He said there needs to be more of an emphasis among young voters to participate in off-year elections.

“Local and state elections are what determine what goes on in our daily lives,” Burris said. “Often times things happen in Richmond or at the state government that change things radically but we don’t even talk about it in the first place because we only pay attention to national issues.”

Millenials had 20 percent lower turnout than other populations during last year’s election, which has raised questions about how pertinent their vote is in the 2016 election.

Cywinski argues otherwise.

“We are a force to be reckoned with. Our issues are just as important as anyone else’s issues. Our concerns should be weighted just the same,” Cywinski said. “Does your voice matter regardless of whether you vote or not, of course it does, but what it comes down to is do you want someone else to make that decision for you?”   


Hiba Ahmad
Hiba is a senior studying broadcast journalism and religious studies. She is a previous Voice of America intern where she worked with the immigration and TV news teams. She previously interned with the Muslim Public Affairs Council and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.
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