Youth voters have impact on elections

Aimee Burch

According to, of the estimated 121,914 votes cast in last week’s Iowa caucus, 10 percent of those votes were cast by those in the 17 to 24 age demographic. Many in this demographic were participating in their first caucus.

Tyler Raygor was one of those people. A sophomore in political science, he arrived at the Lighthouse Outreach precinct Tuesday night ready to support Ron Paul.

“I wasn’t really nervous for voting,” Raygor said. “I was nervous because I wanted Ron Paul to do well.”

Raygor had the added pressure of giving a speech on Paul’s behalf to persuade voters at the last second. He said he was happy with the way his precinct turned out, with Paul coming out of this precinct victorious.

“Everyone has a civic duty to vote,” Raygor said. “It’s a privilege that we don’t take lightly.”

Recent elections have seen an upsurge occurring in the number of participants casting their vote. Mack Shelley, university professor of statistics and political science, said that this is due in large part to youth voters.

“There has been concern for decades in citizen interest and youth interest in politics,” Shelley said. “This is good news for the political process in general to have the youth infusion.”

ISU political science professor Steffen Schmidt stressed the importance of these youth voters.

“It matters because these are the people that are going to be taking over jobs in government, education, nonprofits and other areas in the near future,” Schmidt said.

Shelley emphasized the key role young voters play in the campaign process in getting people excited, handing out pamphlets and setting up yard signs.

“Young people have enough energy and zeal to run around and do that part of the process,” Shelley said. “Youth are crucial.”

With the caucus system, Iowa gives young voters a unique opportunity and view into the political process. Shelley said the caucuses are meant to be a recruiting opportunity focused to youth, as well as a chance to get “fresh blood” into the party by letting young voters, some of whom may not be 18 yet, observe the process and put them on an upward tract.

“It’s a lot harder to do that with a primary,” said Shelley. “It’s a nice feature of the caucuses to have this party-building opportunity.”

In this election cycle, young people seemed to rally around the Texas congressman. According to, 50 percent of voters age 18 to 24 cast their ballots for Paul, mystifying many political pundits.

At 73 years old, Paul is the oldest of the Republican candidates, yet he continues to get the largest number of votes from the coveted 18 to 24 demographic.

“He has some sort of magic,” Schmidt said. “Young people want to listen to him and go to his rallies.”

Schmidt credits Paul’s optimism and belief that government should be there to express, promote and protect freedom in getting him youth support. His opposition to foreign military intervention also appeals to this demographic. He speculates that it is the parallel drawn between Paul and his “grandpa” tendencies that speak to young voters.

“Young people love and listen to Grandpa,” Schmidt said. “Paul appeals to the idea that older equals wisdom. He is upbeat, he smiles and he is optimistic.”

Raygor, an avid Paul supporter, is unable to justify Paul’s unquestionable appeal to young voters.

“I haven’t been able to figure that out either,” Raygor said. “I guess it’s because his passion for the Constitution and civil liberties resonates. He believes in the Constitution and has been consistent.”

Shelley said Paul is a “counterpoint to the norm.”

“He’s closer to [youth] on a lot of important issues, such as his anti-military approach and how he is in favor of keeping small government in people’s lives and out of private affairs,” Shelley said. 

Whatever the reason, many people are hopeful this recent upsurge in political interest continues past this election cycle. Both Shelley and Schmidt convey the importance of keeping this interest going and that young people continue to fight for a candidate they believe in, much like they have for Paul. 

“We have to pass the torch,” Shelley said. “But someone needs to be there to catch it.”