For Young Voters, It’s About More Than Mueller
Young voters are unlikely to change their opinions on President Donald Trump based on the results of the special counsel’s investigation into his involvement in Russian interference in our 2016 elections, according to students and researchers who track the youth vote.
According to the full redacted report that’s been made public, Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. In his letter to congress, Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr, said he found insufficient evidence to establish that Trump had committed that offense. Before his nomination, Barr called the investigation into obstruction-of-justice “fatally misconceived.”
“Regardless of what the report was going to find, I still feel like there are legitimate criticisms of Trump to be made, so it doesn’t affect how I’ll vote in 2020,” Hadeel Eltayeb, a New York University student, told YR Media.
She thinks her peers will hold similar views.
“Those who are fans of Trump are only going to feel vindicated by this, and those who aren’t are unlikely to change their minds because Russia isn’t the biggest reason people are opposed to him,” she said.
Young Trump backers, like Georgetown student Bobby Vogel, are saying the same.
“I was not surprised by the findings,” Vogel said. “But I read an article saying few voters said the investigation results would affect their opinions.”
Researchers largely agree.
A CNN Poll released on March 27 found only 13 percent of Americans say the Mueller report will affect their 2020 vote. Seven percent are more likely to support Trump based on the findings, whereas 6 percent are less likely to do so.
“Unless we really see a big fight from the Dems and some sort of additional legal action or investigation that carries through closer to November 2020, I don’t think it will directly impact youth in their choices,” said Sarah Yerkes, a Carnegie Endowment Fellow who has studied youth voting patterns.
What is likely to have an impact on young voters in 2020 is 2016 Russian interference more generally, even if Trump hasn’t been implicated.
As of this writing, this is still very much a developing story, especially since members of Mueller’s team have gone public with criticisms of Barr’s handling of their investigation.
Brandon Shi, a Columbia University student, said previous Russian involvement in U.S. elections will make him “more mindful about disinformation on social media.”
Eighteen-year-old Thacher Smith, who will be casting his first vote in a presidential election in 2020, told YR Media, “Russian intervention certainly affects [my] vote in the 2020 election as it creates a greater sense of urgency to preserve the principles of our democracy.”
But not all young people will feel that way, Yerkes believes.
“This additional element of uncertainty, the Russian interference, will likely lead some young people to stay home in 2020,” she said.
Abby Kiesa, the director of impact at CIRCLE — a Tufts University center that studies young voters and civic engagement — also thinks the interference may deter some young people from participating.
“It doesn’t lend a lot of support for people who think the system doesn’t facilitate as much change as they want,” she said.
But she also believes there are a lot of factors that go into people’s attitudes towards voting. The impact that Russian interference has on an individual young voter’s outlook “could be different depending on how a young person already views civic engagement or has participated themselves,” according to Kiesa.
Looking beyond Russian interference as an issue, some young people are saying the record-setting diversity of the new Congress is what will bring them to the voting booth in 2020.
“For the first time this year, I saw my ‘Palestinian-American-ness’ represented whole heartedly in American politics,” 19-year-old Anais Amer said. “I will vote in this coming 2020 election to make sure that this continues.”
Voting-age Americans under the age of 40 — Gen Z and millennials — will make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate in 2020 according to Pew. Targeting them and winning their support will present a unique challenge to an aging field of candidates.