By Lauren Lavelle and Gianluca D’Elia
Around this time last year, college campuses across the state were divided over presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Now, with New Jersey’s gubernatorial election coming up in a week, conversations about Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno have been minimal. While some students are eagerly anticipating a trip to the voting booth, others know little to no information about the candidates and may not vote at all.
According to census data taken before the 2016 presidential election, millennial voters made up 31 percent of the overall electoral vote, nearly matching their older counterparts, the baby boomers who range from ages 51 to 69.
Despite this large representation, only 24 million millennials voted last November, a small percentage of the total 139 million registered voters in the United States.
“I don’t know what the gubernatorial election is,” said junior elementary education major Amanda Myer. “I went to an education fair and they were talking about this guy named Phil Murphy and they gave me a Phil Murphy hand sanitizer and I kept making jokes like, ‘Oh, the guy running for governor is on my hand sanitizer.’ I didn’t realize that’s what we were talking about.”
Myer is just one of the growing majority of millennials disinterested in voting, elections and politics in general.
“Millennials are quickly becoming the largest voting block in the United States, but the impact we have on most elections isn’t as large as it can be, considering that we don’t turn out to vote,” said College Republicans President Alex Solomon. “No matter who you choose to vote for, whether it’s the same person I am voting for or not, I would still encourage you to vote. I get more upset with people who don’t vote than with people who vote for someone I don’t agree with.”
Farhan Munaim, a senior political science major, added, “I think the main reason people don’t vote is because they don’t think it actually affects them. They don’t think their vote matters.”
Munaim has spent the fall campaigning for Murphy, the Democratic candidate in the upcoming election and a former Goldman Sachs executive , often spending his weekends knocking on doors and handing out pamphlets. Munaim claims the biggest shock he received during his time campaigning is how uninformed residents are about the importance of the election.
“People have no clue there’s an election going on,” he said. “Right now, the big focus is Donald Trump and the federal election. People say, ‘I’m sorry, the only thing I know about politics is Trump and what’s on Fox or CNN.’”
This lack of knowledge was seen in June when only 738,725 of New Jersey’s 5.8 million registered voters voted in the primary election. When Guadagno visited Rider on Oct. 12, she said the November election’s turnout is projected to be less than 40 percent of registered voters.
In a Sept. 26 interview with The Rider News, Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, emphasized the importance of being an active voter.
“Virtually nobody is paying attention to the New Jersey race,” he said. “I think that’s unfortunate because the next New Jersey governor is going to have to make huge decisions on things like student aid, support for colleges, any number of different issues like taxes, job creation, abortion rights, environmental protection — all of these things are affected much more by a governor than a president. So the next governor is going to have a real impact on the lives of students.”
Lack of knowledge about the candidates also plays a large role in most millennials’ decisions to vote, often drawing them away from the polls. Munaim blames this on minimal advertising and a general lack of information about the election.
“The news and the media don’t really promote state elections, even in the state,” said Munaim. “There are some commercials, you’ll see some signs, but it’s not really mainstream.”
Aside from their lack of motivation to participate in the election, millennials are aware of the importance of voting but have trouble recognizing the impact their votes can make.
“I know a lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote doesn’t matter,” said Alison Holmes, senior psychology major. “If everybody thinks that though, then that’s the mass majority, so one vote does matter.”
Senior political science major Chris Scales had similar feelings, calling the right to vote a “sacred freedom.”
“When young people decide not to vote, they are giving up a seat at the table,” Scales said. “Voting gives them an opportunity to express their ideas. People in our age group are an integral part of the electoral process due to the sheer number of us. When young people participate, and make that participation known, candidates seeking public office pay attention to what we have to say.”