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The Issues Motivating Young People To The Polls


There’s been plenty of data and think pieces dedicated to young voters in Tuesday’s election. And for good reason. According to a poll released last week by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, 40 percent of adults under 30 said they would be voting on Nov. 6.

The last time midterm turnout among young Americans surpassed 20 percent was in 1994 and before that in 1986.

Early voting numbers have already exceeded numbers from 2014 — and teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting last February are credited for mobilizing more young people. But what issues are motivating young people to not only register but show up and vote?  

Nineteen-year-old Taylor Smith credits Senator Bernie Sanders for igniting her “fiery passion for politics.” She’s an active volunteer with the Santa Rosa Democratic Party and just finished canvassing in Gulf Breeze last week. The two big issues on her mind are healthcare costs and college tuition. 

Taylor Smith

“I have had to take out several student loans to be able to afford college,” she said. “Collectively, students owe nearly $1.5 trillion in student debt. The cost of healthcare, specifically dental care, has prevented me from getting a crown on a tooth. My insurance will cover half the cost, but I'm still required to pay around $600.”

Whitney Whipple, 22, said education is an important issue to her, especially on a local level. On Escambia County ballots, registered voters will decide on a local referendum that would make school superintendent an appointed position.

“My mom is a teacher and I work for an education nonprofit,” she said. “Escambia County is one of the lower rated counties in the state. Florida should focus more on education and seeing how we can improve.”

Whitney Whipple

Alby Clendennin voted for the first time in the 2018 primary. And one of those first votes was for himself. He ran for District 3 Okaloosa County School Board, and while he lost the race he didn’t sour on politics. Having just graduated from Baker High School, Clendennin said education is one of his top concerns. 

“I’d like to see a raise in teacher’s pay — Florida is currently 45th in the nation,” he said. “My mother is a teacher, and I might possibly be a teacher one day so voting on educational issues could affect me.”

Tuesday will also be a general election first for Matt Sharpsteen. The 18-year-old UWF College Republicans President said it was Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn who inspired him to be more politically engaged when he met her 10 years ago. Earlier this year, he worked on Rebekah Bydlak’s campaign for Florida District 1 House seat.

As a young entrepreneur (he established a series of walking food tours in his hometown of Brevard, North Carolina), Sharpsteen said he’s for smaller government and cutting “red tape.” He’s also a supporter of the Second Amendment.

Matt Sharpsteen

“A few years ago, my mother was abused by her former fiancée, (she) had to fight for a restraining order,” he said. “This was before the #MeToo movement. My mother got a concealed carry license, which gave her a sense of security. My mother is also why I’m an outspoken supporter of (Florida) Amendment 6. We should continue to support victim’s rights.” 

The jury is still out whether more young voters will sway election results one way or another. The Institute of Politics poll shows Democrats are preferred to control Congress by 34 percentage points. 

But drawing hard parties lines is of less interest to some young voters. Clendennin said he feels like that tide of divisiveness could be turning.

Alby Clendennin

“We have to figure out solutions to problems, not get wrapped up in divisiveness,” Clendennin said. “One of my friends is a supporter of Ron DeSantis and we don’t see eye-to-eye on politics, but we’re still friends. We still hang out. This generation may actually help with the political divide.”