Youth in politics: students influence election

With the upcoming presidential election, students are becoming increasingly involved in politics. Although many of them cannot vote, the election is still being shaped by youth opinion.


Senior Abby Farmer holds up a decorated envelope containing a letter to prospective voters Oct. 7. Farmer writes letters to important swing states to try and get more people to vote democratic. photo by Katie Massman

by Carmon Baker and Sydney Waldron

Social studies teacher Andrew Meyer walks into one of his classes. Looking out at his students, he sees two types: those who are relatively uninformed and those who are very invested in politics. Meyer will teach U.S. government classes second semester and tends to approach the two types of students differently.  

“It’s a very wide spectrum,” Meyer said. “I have students that come in and be like, ‘I have no idea, and it doesn’t mean anything to me.’ On the opposite side, I do have a bunch of students that come in and they’re very gung ho and have, whether from their parents or from things that they’ve done clubs or they’ve gotten involved in, they have a lot of very invested viewpoints that they’ve already begun developing.”  

According to Meyer, he believes that it is very easy for students to ignore political issues and current events. However, he still thinks that it is important for students to develop some political awareness. 

“It’s okay to not have an idea of what’s going on because technically, most of the time, if you’re not 18, you feel as though you don’t have a voice because you don’t have a way to vote,” Meyer said. “The part where ‘it doesn’t mean anything to me,’ is where I start growing concerned. Everything in government impacts your daily life. And so it’s important to make that realization. Not to say that you have to be 100% invested in politics at a high schooler’s age, but you need to start thinking about what’s going on.”

In his classes, Meyer tries to get his students more involved and aware through a wide range of activities. According to Meyer, at the end of each semester, he has his students write a letter to a Congressman or representative to give students a personal connection to the government. 

“Just because when we can’t vote, that doesn’t mean that we can’t participate,” Meyer said. “We can participate in a variety of different manners and a variety of different mediums.”

Overall, Meyer has seen more students that are aware and involved in recent years, specifically in the 2020 presidential election. 

“I’ve heard more and more students talking about the election, talking about what’s going on,” Meyer said. “This election has garnered such a greater significance to so many more people than any one before. And I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s going to lend itself to more and more people becoming involved in later elections, even after this one has subsided.” 

Rather than something specific that the presidential candidates are doing, Meyer partially attributes an increase in youth involvement to celebrities who raise political awareness, rather than something specific that the presidential candidates are doing. 

“I think we’re seeing targeting a lot of younger people in a variety of different mediums,” Meyer said. “If you turn on any football game on Sundays, you’re gonna see that they have different commercials from different players on different teams, saying, ‘Go vote, learn, figure out what you need to do, be informed and do it.’ With the pop stars or celebrities the pro-athletes, really trying to reach out and grab and show the importance of why being informed is important in life.”

Due to this increased awareness, Meyer has seen more students getting involved in political issues on campus. He believes that current events have influenced events such as walkouts, climate strikes and the March on Windmoor, which are students’ ways of having their political voices heard. 

“There’s been more students wanting to bring change in whatever way they can,” Meyer said. “And so I think we’re gonna see that more and more: to-scale versions of what’s going out in the public on campus. And I think that’s great. I think everybody should have their opportunity to voice their opinions and participate in whatever way they can.”

For senior Abby Farmer, this election is different from others because she turns 18 this year, and this presidential election will affect the first four years of her adult life. She feels that these four years are not only essential to her, but also to the climate.

“In my mind this issue is the most urgent issue on the ballot because it affects every other issue and everyone in the world,” Farmer said. “Climate Change is going to be irreversible in 10 years so this election is integral for this issue as the future president will take up 4 of those 10 years.” 

Climate change is an issue of importance to many younger voters. According to a CBS News study, 70% of people between the ages of 18-29 think that climate change is a major issue as of 2019.Farmer was inspired by her own research to make personal choices to help stop some of the effects of climate change. 

I have been to numerous climate marches and strikes,” Farmer said. “I recycle where possible, try and buy used items that are sustainable, and recently have begun to phase into vegetarianism.”

Along with making personal choices to help benefit the environment, Farmer would like to see change in government policies. She believes that Biden has a better approach and plan than Trump.

“Biden has his own plan set out to phase in clean energy among many other principles, whereas Trump’s efforts have been to keep coal, natural gas and oil as the main energy sources,” Farmer said. “Biden also has said that he intends to join other countries in the fight against climate change, in which we failed to do when we withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord in 2016 under President Trump.” 

To help to try and swing the election to the left Farmer has joined an organization that mails letters of information to important swing states.

 I was super excited about  writing letters across the country to try and get others to vote” Farmer said. 

Senior Jacki Flowers-Carrothers has different priorities in mind. Her personal connection with immgriation has led to her strong pro-immgiration views.  Flowers-Carrothers was adopted from Guatemala and feels a strong connection to immigrants coming to American who she believes are just coming in search of a better life. 

Flower-Carrothers was  frustrated with Trump’s administration policies on immigration, especially the enforcement of child separation at the border. The policy was originally written by the Obama administration, but heavily enforced by Trump because of his zero tolerance policy. Under a “zero tolerance policy” the Trump administration considers all illegal border crossings for criminal prosecution. By doing this, children have to be separated from their parents, because it’s illegal for children to be held in detention facilities for adults.

“Reading articles and seeing all those people made me incredibly sad and partly angry because it’s like seeing it in the mirror,” Flower-Carrothers said. “That could have been me if I wasn’t adopted.” 

Flower-Carrothers’ passion for this issue has affected her vote. She feels that Biden will help overturn some of the policies that the Trump administration enforced. 

 “I definitely think Biden’s stance on Immigration is better than Trump’s,” Flower-Carrothers said.  “I know he is planning on overturning some of Trump’s policies like separating children from their families and limiting the number of immigrants coming into this country, which I think is a good idea.

Flower-Carrothers supports a more moderate approach to immigration.

“I am not sure about open borders,” Flower-Carrothers said. “I think that we should definitely let more immigrants in.”

Although junior Emily Franklin will not be old enough to vote in the 2020 election, she still supports the Republican party and would vote for Donald Trump. However, she does not agree with everything that the Trump administration has done in terms of immigration. 

“I think our immigration laws are a little strict in terms of becoming a citizen,” Franklin said. “When Trump just started kicking people out of America, I think that was a little bold of him, but there’s nothing I can really do about that.”

However, Franklin does still have concerns with immigration and her stances are more conservative than Flower-Carrothers’. According to Franklin, her primary concern with immigration issues is the state of the economy in the United States. 

“Even if [immigrants are] totally harmless, I think it really affects the economy if we just have a lot of people swarming in and just living here for free,” Franklin said. “I think people need to be working and supporting the country. I definitely think we should not just be allowing people to come and live here.” 

According to Franklin, her classmates see her views as “unique,” as they are typically more conservative. 

“I really base [my opinions] around the Catholic beliefs, and some people consider Catholicism to be homophobic or a little anti-liberal,” Franklin said. “So a lot of the grade kind of thinks of me as like that, but it’s not really true.”

While Farmer participates in the mail campaign, Franklin is less involved in this election. When she is old enough to vote, she plans on voting in major elections, such for the presidency, Senate and House of Representatives. Until then, she believes that it is important to stay informed but does not actively participate. 

“I don’t devote a lot of time to it, Franklin said. “But I do keep up on social media. And I will be watching the debates if it doesn’t, like, conflict. It’s not a priority of mine, you know, I mean, so yeah, I’ll try to keep up with it if I can, but it’s really not super relevant.” 

According to Franklin, although she uses social media to keep up with certain issues, she is not open about her own political views and does not share them on social media to avoid controversy, saying “I like to keep them to myself.” However, she still believes that social media will play an important part in this election and encourages others to speak out. 

“I think everyone has freedom of speech, so they can share what they want, they can push out their own beliefs as much as they want,” Franklin said. “Really, I think it’s good actually, to put it out there and stand up for what you believe in.” 

In fact, Franklin believes that in this election, social media should be used as a means of replacing other methods of spreading political opinions. 

“I don’t believe in the protests,” Franklin said. “I know it’s worked in history. And that’s what people are comparing it to. But due to our advances in social media, and how to spread the word around, I feel like protesting should not be something that we’re doing. [Protestors have] been burning flags. And I feel like violence is not the best way to approach it.”

Junior Lucy Wade, who also can’t vote this year,endorses Biden. Wade uses social media as an outlet for her political views; and as a way to help inform voters that can vote this year.

“One way that I am involved in this election is social media,” Wade said. “I try and put things on my story that are helpful to people trying to register to vote.”

About 54% of teenagers get their news from social media sites like Instagram and Facebook . Wade however, while professing her views on social media does not get her new information from these sites.

“I get the Apple News updates on my phone, and sometimes click the full article if it is something I am interested in,” Wade said. “I don’t really get my politics from social media, and if I do, I always fact check it.”

According to Meyer, he is conflicted about advances in social media, saying, “it’s a very sharp, double-edged sword.” He has seen social media influence recent elections and create a unique environment in recent years. 

“Anybody can promote any idea, [which] can lead the average person who’s only getting their news sources from social media to be misled,” Meyer said. “There are varying degrees as to which way that can go wrong. The goal, of course, is to just promote an idea, a viewpoint, so that it can be heard. And that would be great if [social media] stayed with that, but it can be used in such a way to promote misleading thoughts and basically skew the average person’s viewpoint on a certain topic or candidate in an election.”

Teenagers are not the only ones who receive news from social media. According to a Pew Research Center, 2/3  of Americans get their news from social media. 

Ultimately, Meyer is optimistic about the future of the political landscape in the U.S. as current students become more involved with the government. 

“My hope is that we allow for compromise on both ends of the aisle,” Meyer said. “Is that you guys make the change, and are willing to have the discussions across political ideologies that enable us to move forward. And learn the skills, critical thinking that allow you to look past the nuances, the myth, the misnomers and the misleading information in order to kind of cut to the chase and see what is going to be best for everybody.”