With presidential campaigns in full swing, Bernie stickers and MAGA hats paint the picture of a politically engaged youth. But elections still beg the question of whether Bruins are voting hard or hardly voting.
The statistics point to the latter.
Every year, the national youth demographic is among the lowest for voter turnout. During the heated 2016 presidential election, 27,968 students registered to vote but only 18,830 actually turned in a ballot. That’s about a third of the school’s population.
Even for one of the most polarizing elections of modern day politics, the California voter turnout rate was only 33.4% for 18- to 24-year-olds. And although it was roughly equal to UCLA’s student voting percentage of 36%, it’s still lower than the overall state turnout rate of 46.8% – and it’s a dire signal of falling civic engagement.
But registration is simply not enough – it’s only the first step.
UCLA has an educational responsibility to foster interest in political engagement on campus. Just registering students clearly isn’t a surefire push to the polls given the dismal voter turnout year after year. And educating students on their options will not only allow them to make an educated vote – but will ensure the university plays a nonpartisan role in the political process.
Instead of focusing on a major election every two years and for a couple months, the school should devise a more consistent approach to properly educating students on topics such as identifying trustworthy sources of information, comprehending various policies and their impacts and filling out a California ballot – especially for its 6,795 out-of-state students.
Rushing to inform students is a risk we simply can’t afford – especially if it means leaving a key voting block without a firm decision or the information they need when faced with a ballot.
While organizations like BruinsVOTE! and CALPIRG have had immense success in registering record numbers of voters, little work is being done to ensure students are properly educated on the issues, policies, candidates and most importantly, their own role in the political system.
Nicolette Canlian, a second-year physiological science student, says the university has not helped her learn about candidates and voting for them.
“I think an online interactive course would be useful to learn about policies and candidates’ plans during their terms,” Canlian said.
And they have the resources to do so. Mandatory seminars or required GE classes on civic engagement would be an efficient means of providing students with information that they may be too busy or lazy to find on their own.
Student organizations are already working to increase political engagement on campus, but Bruins who aren’t involved in the political system don’t have the access they need to nonpartisan educational information.
Michelle Ohanian, the policy director for Bruin Republicans, said while the organization does not directly cooperate with the school, they make an effort to motivate voters through phone banking and inviting speakers to campus.
“The Bruin Republicans host speakers on campus to encourage a more diverse political dialogue,” Ohanian said. “Some of (our) activities include hosting a forum of Californian candidates so our students can meet and hear from the people on their ballots.”
Political organizations like these are effective in some ways, but they can’t serve everyone. These campus political organizations cater to students who already know what they think of the political system – but students without an opinion are left with a lack of information and few resources.
Alex Brandolino, the internal vice president of the Bruin Democrats, said the organization is working with the school to invite Democratic presidential candidates to campus this fall.
“I do think inviting candidates and giving students the opportunity to meet and ask questions will motivate them to vote,” Brandolino said.
For the average student outside of UCLA’s political groups, though, CALPIRG members racing around Bruin Walk will likely be their only tangible exposure to anything resembling politics. Yet registration without information leaves students interacting with politics on the surface level.
A huge percentage of Bruins are registered to vote, but never actually see the ballot box. UCLA has all the education, influence and money to meet students halfway in the political process – and it needs to if our generation of students is expected to push beyond Washington’s ideological deadlock.
Obviously, voting is an individual decision, and some might argue that UCLA is therefore not obligated to expend the resources and effort to convince students to make that choice. But as a public research institution, UCLA is responsible for educating the students that are paying to be there – and it needs to provide the resources necessary for students to make an informed decision that will ultimately affect the larger public.
UCLA has a lot of sway within a student body that has been disengaged for too long, but they consistently fail to use it.
Students may not be voting hard – but UCLA is hardly getting them to vote.