UNL millennials work to change Nebraska’s voting statistics
One day. One political party. One chance to rally behind a potential president. For Ivy Lutz, this was an opportunity to be heard.
The March 5 Nebraska Democratic caucus was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student’s first chance to participate in an official part of a presidential race.
“We were sitting in a classroom with about 100 to 150 people,” Lutz said. “Which, you know, is really hot and really exciting. We were all bumping shoulders and excited because we were all together. We were all liberals.”
Lutz is a member of the millennial generation, or those ages 19 to 35. This year, millennials surpassed the baby boomers to become the largest generation of voters. But this won’t necessarily be reflected in the polls.
About half of all eligible people ages 18-29 turned out to vote on Election Day of 2012, compared with nearly 72 percent of voters ages 65 and older, according to the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
Nebraska is no exception, said John Hibbing, a UNL professor of political science.
“The long-standing pattern is people 18 to 25 are the least likely to participate in politics,” he said. “That pattern applies in Nebraska.”
Lutz and other UNL students are working to change this standard.
Matthew Server, a sophomore political science major, also strives to be politically involved. He is on the executive board of UNL College Republicans and caucused for Marco Rubio in Iowa. Rubio didn’t win that night, but the results were better than expected.
“That’s when politics really become tangible. When you put all that effort into it and then all of a sudden, you know, you’re seeing results,” he said. “You’re seeing your guy did really well. You made phone calls. You caucused, and partly we can’t take all the credit, but partly because of your efforts he is the front-runner again.”
Although Rubio has dropped out of the race, Server still plans to vote and be involved as much as he can.
“I think the people of our democracy are entrusting that you give your voice and that you actively participate,” he said.
Server has always been politically involved. In high school, he was voted “most likely to become president.”
Lutz is also a sophomore political science major and is a member of UNL Young Democrats. Like Server, she grew up politically involved. Her liberal, Democrat parents encouraged political conversation, she said.
“The way of changing the injustices in our world is through politics,” she said.
Gloria Kimbulu, a senior advertising and public relations major, found other ways to be a part of the political process. She is a member of Huskers for Social Democracy, a student-run organization focused on campus outreach and promoting activism among students. She exercises her political voice by participating in events like a “Hands up for Michael Brown” rally and a candlelight vigil for Syrian refugees. She also co-created the social media campaign #NotAtUNL, which encouraged students to share screenshots of racially charged social media posts to demonstrate that racism exists on campus.
“I started going to protests because they were on issues I cared about and I wanted to show my support,” Kimbulu said. “It’s important for students to become involved politically because representatives of the government will not represent us correctly if we don’t say what we care about.”
Meanwhile, some Lincoln organizations are working to support millennials in exercising their right to vote.
This year, Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit focused on social justice, is planning its first-ever campaign for voter engagement on college campuses, said Rachel Gehringer, field director for Nebraska Appleseed.
“If we want to see change on all levels, whether it’s at the local, state, national or community level, we have to be engaged,” she said. “And one way you can do that is to exercise your power at the ballot box.”
Nebraska’s Democratic caucus has already been held. The state’s Republican primary will be held on May 10. However, millennial primary voter turnout has not been high this year; in the New Hampshire primary only 19 percent of Democrat millennials voted and only 15 percent of Republican millennials voted.
“The problem is millennials love to talk and we don’t actually do,” Lutz said. “It’s up to millennials to actually vote when November comes.”