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San Diego County Has 17K More Youth Voters Than In 2016 — Here’s Why

A woman holds a sign that reads,

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: A woman holds a sign that reads, "I'm educated, angry and registered to vote," at the "March For Our Lives" demonstration in downtown San Diego, March 14, 2018.

During the 2014 midterm elections, 22 percent of millennials turned out to vote. This year, an estimated 63 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds alone plan to vote. And countywide, voter registration among young people is way up.

A sense of civic duty and gun violence are main drivers

The nonpartisan Education Week Research Center recently surveyed more than 1,000 new voters and found their top reason for heading to the polls is a sense of responsibility upon reaching voting age. The top issue they’re thinking about? Gun violence.

“I definitely feel like it’s my responsibility, but also issues that are important to me like gun control, I would love to speak out on those more,” said Ava Watson, a senior at the Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad. “In today’s day and age, it’s a very pressing issue. And as a student and a young person, I need to change that.”

RELATED: For San Diego Students, School Walkout Is A Warm-Up For The Ballot Box

Civics education correlates with voting

The survey also found those who planned to vote were more likely to have taken a standalone civics class at school. Nearly half of those who planned to stay home on election day had not taken a civics class.

Watson said her parents vote but don’t really talk about it, so civics education and activism among students have played a big role in her decision to vote. Government students at Pacific Ridge recently organized and hosted a candidate forum for the Carlsbad mayor’s race. Watson said it made the political process feel less intimidating.

“Debates before, they’re kind of really heated and a little hostile, and it was kind of reassuring to see them bouncing ideas off each other and talking about points that are important to them without being hostile,” she said.

Similarly, Halima Musa became interested in voting and politics through civics education. The 18-year-old City Heights resident took Advanced Placement government at the Preuss School but also learned about politics through community engagement work with the nonprofit Mid-City CAN and others in her neighborhood. She’s now a student at Grossmont College.

“Growing up in City Heights, it’s a good place to live, but it could be better. And I understand if we vote and we get politicians to listen to us, we can get the resources we need,” Musa said. “I don’t want my siblings and my nieces and nephews to struggle like I saw my parents struggle.”

RELATED: Sweetwater Embraces Move From Textbook Civics To Civic Engagement

She said her parents, who are refugees from Kenya, struggled to find work when they first arrived in City Heights. Musa said they now vote with her and her siblings’ encouragement and help.

Suburban youth more likely to vote

Sarah Michelsen, 18, goes to Pacific Ridge with Watson. Her experience is the opposite of Musa’s.

“It was something that my parents really emphasized. My mom said, ‘OK, you’re 18 now. You better register. You better make sure you vote on Nov. 6,'” she said.

That could help explain another finding from the survey. Youth who spent the majority of their life in suburbs, as well as those who went to private schools, are more likely to vote than their urban and public school counterparts.

Voter turnout in suburban districts tends to be larger than in places like City Heights, meaning more parents are instilling the habit in their children.

Still, many expect this year’s youth activism to bring more youth to the polls, no matter their background. The county saw a big spike in voter registration among 18- to 25-year-olds following school walkouts and marches against gun violence in schools. As of September, there were nearly 17,000 more youth registered to vote than in September 2016.

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