On the first day of in-person early voting in Milwaukee this week, UWM roommates Juan Escutia and Max Markowitz stood in an about 20-person line on campus to cast their ballots. Both are 18, so this was their first time voting for president.
“The future of the nation is at stake,” Escutia said. “I think that this is probably the most divided we’ve ever been. I’ve only been here for 18 years but still, I don’t remember a period where the White House and everything was just in complete disarray. Especially this year with the COVID pandemic and the riots and protests going on — I think it’s important to get this nation back on track.”
In a purple state like Wisconsin, young people are likely to influence the outcome of the presidential race. Researchers at Tufts University rank Wisconsin as the #1 state where young people could have the greatest impact on the election.
Escutia and Markowitz had to overcome a few hurdles to vote. The UWM students are both from Illinois, but wanted to vote in Wisconsin since it’s a swing state. To register, they say they made a trip to city hall and had to procure special student voting IDs from UWM. They went through all of that so they could cast ballots for Democrat Joe Biden.
“Joe Biden — he’s not my first choice,” Escutia said. “I personally supported Pete Buttigeg in the primaries. But I think that despite his problems, he at least has decency. He’s been through it, he has experience in the Senate. And after seeing these four years of Trump, it’s just been too much.”
In the most recent Marquette poll, 57% of likely Wisconsin voters in the 18-29 age bracket favored Biden compared to 25% for Trump. But the polls also indicate that young Trump supporters are more enthusiastic about their candidate than Biden supporters.
Miranda Spindt, a 20-year-old enthusiastic Trump supporter, says that resonates with what she’s heard.
“The really big, popular Joe Biden Instagram page is called ‘Settle for Biden.’ There’s not enthusiasm for him as far as I see,” Spindt said. “All my friends who are voting for him say he’s a stepping stone to what they really want.”
Spindt is a junior at Marquette University who is active in the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative activist group.
“I really just like how [Trump] says what he thinks, whether it sounds nice or whatever,” Spindt said. “He does a really good job about fighting back against the leftist narrative, something that I thought was missing.”
Regardless of political opinion, young people are motivated to vote in 2020. The Harvard Public Opinion Project, which has been surveying young people nationally, found that 63% of 18 to 29-year-olds plan to vote in this election, compared to 47% in 2016.
In an online forum earlier this month, Harvard Public Opinion Project Chair Justin Tseng said young people’s enthusiasm is similar to 2008 — when President Barack Obama was elected.
“I think what we’re seeing now is young people have a reason to turn out,” Tseng said. “In 2008, young people turned out for a candidate they really liked. I think what we’re seeing now is they’re turning out because they’re anxious and worried about the future.”
Kade Walker, an organizer with the left-leaning group NextGen America, compares this year to Wisconsin’s 2018 midterms, when young voters helped Democrat Tony Evers defeat Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker.
“Young voters here have an outsized impact on the results of the election compared to other states,” Walker said. “So turning those people out will definitely be the X factor in this election. And this isn’t just me speculating — this happened in 2018 when Gov. Evers was elected. Young people flocked to him by a historic rate [of 23 points.]”
NextGen is active in get-out-the-vote efforts, and Walker says the pandemic raises concerns about whether the young people who say they’re going to vote will actually be able to. So NextGen is encouraging Wisconsinites to make a voting plan, and if possible, vote early.