In previous presidential elections, Brandon Waite, associate professor of political science, could ask his classes five days after an election how many students voted, and about half would raise their hands, he said. On Oct. 29, 2020, five days before Election Day, all but one raised their hand.
“Right now, the numbers suggest that it’s younger voters, in particular, who are taking advantage of early voting in many states,” Waite said. “I think we will see a huge turnout in this election that we haven’t seen in previous elections, and I think a large part of that is going to be young people, particularly college students.”
The Indiana secretary of state’s office said at least 1.7 million voters cast their ballots early, either in person or by mail. The Associated Press (AP) declared President Donald Trump the winner of Indiana at approximately 9 p.m. Nov. 3, 2020. Indiana’s 11 Electoral College votes have been cast for the Republican candidate for 13 of the past 14 presidential elections.
As of 7 p.m. Nov. 4, the presidential election remained too close to call, with five states still tallying votes and unable to declare a winner. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had 264 electoral votes after winning Michigan at 6:02 p.m. and Trump had 214, each short of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election.
Waite said young people are likely becoming more interested in politics during the 2020 election because of issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected their college experience due to social distancing requirements and social unrest caused by protests about police brutality.
“I think a lot of the turnout we’re seeing right now is because the things that younger people are really interested in — those are things that have been disrupted by the coronavirus,” he said. “A lot of those more traditional campaign topics don’t attract younger people’s attention. I think COVID is personalizing [politics] in a way that they understand in very tangible terms what this means for their lives.”
Bryce Wessley, senior human resources major, said economic health motivated him to vote in 2020, his first election, as he prepares for the workforce after graduation.
“I hope Trump will win in 2020 because he is pro-Second Amendment, and I think economically, he put us in a very good place,” he said. “As someone who is graduating into the job market, I like to see that.”
Wessley voted early and in person in his hometown of Auburn, Indiana, and said he waited in line for about 30 minutes. If Trump is reelected, Wessley said he hopes to see the administration prioritize the U.S. economy and the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Waite said he is encouraged by the increased number of students he’s seen vote in 2020 compared to previous years and hopes they continue to vote in future presidential elections.
“Once people participate in elections, they’re more likely to do so in the future,” he said. “My hope is that this is not just a one-time turnout of young voters who might be particularly agitated with this race because of the personality of our current president but even in the future once that individual is off the ticket — once there’s no Trump on the ticket.”
Though there were likely fewer large gatherings and watch parties during Election Day, Waite said, he thinks people are still invested in the results. He said knowing election results immediately is not a predominant concern on Election Day.
“Whether or not we know on election night, or even 72 hours later, I think is less important than making sure that every vote is counted,” Waite said. “Democracy takes time.”
Because younger voters typically have more liberal political views than other age groups, Waite said, a large increase of 18-to-25-year-old voter turnout could have implications for Electoral College votes.
Chad Kinsella, assistant professor of political science, said state Electoral College votes are largely based on a state’s voter demographic.
“Some states are reliably ‘red’ or ‘blue’ based on their history, political culture and especially because of the people who reside within them,” Kinsella said via email. “Ultimately, certain people tend to view each party and their candidates more favorably than others.”
Kinsella said white working class voters have traditionally voted for the Republican Party while wealthier suburban voters are starting to trend toward the Democratic Party. He said changes in voter trends are “making states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia become more of battleground states.”
AP declared Texas and its 38 electoral votes for Trump at about 1 a.m. Nov. 4 and Arizona’s 11 electoral votes for Biden at 3 a.m. Georgia was one of the five states still counting votes without a clear winner at 7 p.m. Nov. 4.
All but two states, Maine and Nebraska, operate on a winner-takes-all Electoral College system, meaning the candidate who secures a majority of a state’s popular vote wins all of the state’s electoral votes.
“Certain demographics of people, over time, change their political affiliations … but it does happen pretty slowly,” Kinsella said. “The two parties are constantly adjusting their strategies to stay competitive, and the political landscape changes with the news cycles.”
Amber Roth, junior women's and gender studies and art history double major, said Indiana’s traditional Republican Electoral College votes discouraged her when she voted in Boone County in mid-October.
“On some level, it almost felt like pageantry, but there was no way on earth I would consider not voting,” she said.
Roth said she plans to continue voting in future presidential elections as well as write her representatives about legislation she supports.
“Voting isn’t a catch-all solution. It’s a start, but there’s so much in the system that needs to be fixed,” Roth said. “At the end of the day, this is a single election, and it’s not going to fix everything.”
Waite said political parties may change the way they campaign if younger voters become more involved in politics, potentially discussing issues that affect younger voters more directly than foreign policy or taxes.
“I think this election matters, and I think that people realize that more now than they ever have in the past,” Waite said. “That’s what’s helping drive out particularly young voters because they feel their vote matters.”