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Young voters rely on social media for their news. How will this play out in the 2022 elections?

 WUSF Public Media held a listening session at the University of South Florida campus in St. Petersburg to hear young voters' thought heading into the Nov. 8 general election.
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media held a listening session at the University of South Florida campus in St. Petersburg to hear young voters' thought heading into the Nov. 8 general election.

Social media is a growing source of information for voters, especially for those in college. But that doesn't mean these voters are less passionate about making their vote count.

"It looks like to me that students are consuming their information differently than a different portion of the electorate," said Tara Newsom, a St. Petersburg College political science professor.

According to Newsom, the majority of her students — who range in age from 17 to their early 40s — are consuming their news through social media platforms.

RELATED: On distrust and media bias: Why these young voters are disillusioned with the political process

"And that's driving a lot of their analysis of politics of the effectiveness of, of their own voice," Newsom said. "It also drives what they're interested in, and how they intersect with other peers."

Newsom says a lack of trust is playing out on social media platforms, and it's "really a challenge for students to find their own political advocacy. "

"And so the biggest piece that we're trying to offer to students is to be critical thinkers to consume information from lots of diverse areas," Newsom said, "and to make sure that they think through before they vote. Where did they get the information, what was the bias, and to not necessarily be sucked into the dialogue that goes on in social media platforms, because it's very disorientating to them."

Here are excerpts of Peddie's conversation with Newsom on topics ranging from young voters' views on the political process, avoiding affiliation with major political parties, and if that will impact whether they turn out to vote.

* * *

Matthew Peddie: I think one positive is that despite the level of, I guess, disaffection, or dissatisfaction with the political process, and with the media as well, you still have here, young voters who are pretty committed to voting, it seems, so that must be a positive for you as a teacher.

 St. Petersburg College professor Tara Newsom
St. Petersburg College professor Tara Newsom

Sara Newsom: You know, young people are sometimes just counted as not being participants because they don't always show up at the voting booth. We're hoping to change that, of course. But that doesn't mean they're not educated and passionate. Trust in politics, trust in the government trust in the media is important to them, but the environment, civil liberties, making sure that they still count. That's part of the kind of youthful optimism and passion that we see across the country and certainly see here in Pinellas County. And I think that politicians can't discount that. You know, there might be a level of dissatisfaction and distrust, but that's never going to keep the students down.

There are a lot more voters in Florida registering as No Party Affiliation, that's gone for about 16% NPA two decades, to 27% now, and a lot of them are younger voters. What do you make of that?

Well, that's de-alignment. That's what we talk about in academic speak, right? De-aligning with the two party system. But I don't think that we need to hang our hat on that. I think NPA is a way to express yourself as dissatisfied with the two-party system. But it isn't necessarily telling about how you're actually going to vote. And that's why Nov. 8 is going to be so important, to see what young people came out to vote, who did they vote for, what kind of issues. And the environment has consistently been one of the formative issues that drives students because they look around and they see the heating of the planet, civil liberties, civil rights, bodily sovereignty. You know, students are very smart. They're very savvy, they understand psychological terms, sometimes better than us. So gaslighting of America, the students bring that to my attention, they teach me about, 'Hey, is Florida really free?' Look at the legislation that we're studying. Is that really what freedom looks like? And so they're looking at their vote as a means to exercise what they really think is important.

One of the things that comes across in conversation with younger voters is the level of mistrust of elected officials, and then also around the media itself. I wonder how you go about building trust with students around political conversations. How do you get them to trust you and make sure that they see you as a good source of information?

I have to earn their trust. And I learned from them as much as they learned from me. We're all in this democratic process together. And there is no magic to it other than mutual respect of the students and of the experience of being in higher education. And in Florida, we have a lot of challenges to folks having access to education, and I think students understand that. It's a privilege to be here and it's a privilege to teach them.

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Matthew Peddie