USC students often claim that compared to our counterparts at UC Berkeley and UCLA, our student body is less politically active.
The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement’s 2014 report on USC’s student voting rates supports these claims. It shows that the university’s voting rate was 2.6 percent lower than the aggregate voting rate of more than 1,000 colleges and universities.
In the 2014 midterms, less freshmen and sophomores voted than upperclassmen. Less undergraduates voted than graduate students. Less full-time students voted than part-time students. Less men voted than women. When broken down by major, only 4 percent of registered computer science majors voted.
In preparation for the 2018 midterms, Eleonora Viotto and Alex Vandenberg co-founded VoteSC — a coalition of diverse political organizations on campus that aims to get more students registered and voting.
“We have abysmal voting rates. We’re asking: what can we do about it?” Viotto said.
For overloaded college kids, registration and voting can seem like a monumental task. The barriers include loads of paperwork, knowing your state’s specific registration guidelines, updating your address, remembering deadlines, buying and paying for stamps to mail your ballot.
VoteSC is working to eliminate these barriers. They’ve bought the software to Turbovote, an online platform that registers students to vote and sends voting reminders and deadlines.
Briana Miles, President of the Political Student Assembly, says that targeting the middle ground — students who aren’t necessarily political science majors, but want to engage further — is crucial.
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re reaching out to people who may not be reading The New York Times every day.” Miles said.
In this year’s voter registration competition against UCLA, 2,000 students engaged with the Turbovote platform. Turbovote representatives say that approximately 70 percent of those who engage with the platform actually register to vote. VoteSC plans to use Turbovote to increase voter registration and turnout for elections in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
“It’s going to take a lot of time. It’s like moving a boulder up a hill to do anything institutionalized. We’re not going to get there today, and maybe not even in my time at USC, but we’ve started the climb,” Viotto said.
VoteSC hopes to ingrain registering and voting deep into our campus culture. At UCLA, students are automatically registered to vote as part of their orientation. UCLA’s student government has a department dedicated to increasing voter turnout. The voting competition with USC is known on their campus.
USC’s Political Student Assembly, a branch of USG, aims to bolster political dialogue and activity on our campus. They hold weekly meetings with political speakers to create an environment where students feel comfortable debating. Last spring, they had comedian Hasan Minhaj perform.
But Miles says that meetings still have a light turnout. They are usually populated only by the heads of political groups on campus.
“In 2016, I was a freshman, and I would go to the PSA meetings, and no one would show up,” Miles said. “That’s an example of the engagement of our student body with politics.”
Some students feel the political climate has shifted since 2016 and that political activity is on the rise. Viotto says that since many students had their first voting experience in such a polarized climate, they feel the urgency of voting, on either side of the aisle.
The Political Student Assembly and VoteSC include organizations ranging widely across the spectrum — College Republicans, College Democrats, Trojan for Liberty, Trojans for Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine. They've all united to increase engagement.
"The perception of us as an apathetic campus may perpetuate apathetic behavior during our time here," Vandenberg said.
According to Harvard's National Youth Poll, 40 percent of 18- to 29-year olds indicate that they are likely to vote on Nov. 6.
The Youth Electoral Significance Index, created by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, says that young voters could have a pivotal impact on a slew of competitive U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial races in battleground states if they show up on election day.
Tuesday's midterm elections will give insight into the voting habits of college-aged students and shed light on our campus culture in this political moment.