Why young voters aren't engaged in local elections

Young voters make up small portion; Strategist said they have little at stake locally

Mike Baggerman
October 21, 2019 - 3:00 am

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Apathy among young voters in local elections is an issue that campaigns have had to face for years.

Despite the increase in forms of communication like social media, a consistent theme continues to plague campaigns when it comes to young voters.

"I don't see younger people come out to vote because they're not stakeholders in anything," Barry Zeplowitz, a long-time political strategist, said. "The issues they're interested in are not the bread-and-butter issues of taxpayers in the Town of Amherst or in Cheektowaga or the City of Buffalo. They have a whole different agenda and a whole different outlook on life."

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In Erie County, less than three percent (16,734) of registered voters are between the ages 18 and 20. Roughly 14 percent of voters (81,525) are between the ages of 21 and 29. More than 40 percent of registered voters are between ages 30-55. Registered voters between the ages of 56 and 64 make up 17 percent of the electorate and more than 25 percent of voters are age 65 and older.

There has been a massive disparity between odd-year elections on local races like the one for county executive and even-year elections highlighted by federal representation. In Erie County,  237,825 voters come out for the 2011 race for county executive while 152,655 people voted in the race in 2015. Former President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election saw 417,435 voters come out in Erie County and President Donald Trump's election in 2016 had 431,537 voters locally. Last year's midterms saw a combined 346,901 voters between NY-26 and NY-27.

"Younger people haven't begun yet to focus on what role government plays in their life," Zeplowitz said. "Unlike years ago where younger people turned 18 and they registered to vote, it's not happening (now)."

Zeplowitz also pondered whether the tones of today's election campaigns at all levels is deterring young people from getting involved in the political process. He also suggested that social media is playing a role in how young people get involved.

"When you go to buy television or radio today, even in a county like Erie County, you've got multiple stations besides the networks, you've got Fox that you add on and the cable networks, there's so many that I can't count," he said. "Then you get people who are 'DVRing' programs and can skip over commercials that people have spent thousands of thousands of dollars on. You have this whole different world where elections are taking place."

Young voters can't be blamed in full, though. Some young people, like Ian Klenk from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, are fully engaged in politics with plans to vote in every election. Despite not being eligible to vote yet, Klenk was among the students at last Friday's annual debate between Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Lynne Dixon.

"For me, it's too easy to say it's pure apathy," Klenk said. "I would say it's more of a disconnect. A lot of times, politicians go to where the fish are. Unfortunately our young people don't vote. Usually, politicians don't ever go to them so the voters that age never go to the politicians."

He and many young people get their information from online sources compared to the traditional television sources.

"The growth of blogs are sort of how we get our information now," he said. "One down side to that is that it's more one-sided. It's more constraining on how we see certain issues."

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