This year almost two billion voters will elect their leaders— more people than ever before, according to an Aljazeera News report. Citizens of several democracies cast their votes recently or are heading to the polls in the coming months. At the same time, American voters are considering their options as new candidates come forward to challenge President Trump in 2020. In the coverage of elections both in the U.S. and around the world, a common theme emerges: young people are a key constituency that politicians can’t ignore, and they can make a significant impact on their country’s politics if they choose to participate. After a weeklong delay due to security concerns, polls opened on Saturday to the 84 million Nigerians registered to vote.
Tensions have run high across the country in the weeks leading up to one of the most closely contested elections in Nigerian history and disrupting attacks by the terrorist organization Boko Haram have taken at least 27 lives so far. The main competition is between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and challenger Atiku Abubakar. Both contenders were aware of the need to appeal to the Nigerian youth, who make up the country’s largest bloc. One of the biggest concerns among young Nigerians is the future of the country’s economy—despite growth, over 90 million citizens still live in extreme poverty. Young people’s economic worries have been a significant part of the conversation surrounding the election that took place this week in another African country: Senegal.
Unemployment is high among the sixty percent of Sengalese citizens under 25, and many are discontented with the country’s economic progress. Incumbent President Macky Sall claimed that he created hundreds of thousands of jobs during his last term, but experts have pointed out that the private sector, not the government, generates employment. Early predictions expected an easy win for Sall, whose victory was announced on Monday. The younger generation also forms a critical bloc of voters in a third important election taking place this spring. Indonesia will hold the largest election day in the world on April 17, when 193 million eligible voters will be able to cast presidential and legislative ballots simultaneously for the first time. Experts anticipate that the millennial vote could decide the outcome of these races. Despite their importance, young Indonesians aren’t likely to vote uniformly— that is, if they vote at all. Apathy runs high among the country’s millennials. The young people who are politically active aren’t all progressives, and some hold highly conservative religious views. Political candidates must find a way to appeal to this complex demographic.
The U.S. also suffers from a lack of political participation among young people—only 31 percent of eligible citizens between 18 and 29 cast a vote in November’s midterms. When I asked 21 Hope College students whether they’d voted in the most recent election, fewer than half had. Some mentioned problems with registration, and others felt too uninformed. Many of those who did vote cited their frustration with the Trump presidency as the motivation for their involvement. Others felt a sense of civic obligation or were eager to try voting for the first time. As one first-year student put it, “I felt like it was my duty as a citizen, plus it was my first time, so I wanted to try it out.” The majority of students surveyed planned on voting in the 2020 election. “I want to be educated and use my constitutional right,” said another first-year, “I can’t get mad at who got elected if I didn’t try by voting.” A few were more hesitant to say they’d vote in 2020. In the words of one firstyear, “Depends if there’s anyone who’s actually going to help.”