The Pew Research Center has found that by sheer numbers, millennials should be as large a political force as baby boomers. However, in the 2012 election, millennials only accounted for 19% of the electorate, as compared to baby boomers who accounted for 38%.
WashU students though consistently defy this trend and vote at high rates. In the 2012 general election, 72% of WashU’s students were registered to vote and 59% of those students voted. This fall our goal is to build on that positive trend by registering 80% of eligible students and achieving at least a 65% voting rate, which would make WashU’s voting rate one of the highest in the country.
This 2016 election cycle provides an exciting opportunity to launch a new voter engagement strategy for WashU, as the upcoming presidential debate at WashU and long publicized election have created a surge of interest in political engagement across campus. However, along with excitement, this election cycle has also brought about challenges to political engagement.
It can be difficult to engage people in the electoral process when they feel disheartened by the rancorous partisan rhetoric that has dominated the recent news cycle. Dialogue across difference has emerged as an essential skill to counteract these dominant and divisive themes.
The Gephardt Institute is invested in empowering students to not only vote, but also to engage in respectful dialogue with their peers about political issues. Political party stereotypes too often consume substantive conversation about the issues, and distract us from the truth that—whatever our party affiliation—we all share the common goal of improving our nation’s social and economic conditions and ensuring that our country has a bright future.
We believe the best way to achieve this goal is by fostering the lifelong civic engagement of dedicated, thoughtful, and informed citizens. We are building a foundation for this engagement through a range of special initiatives, including an election year programming fund for faculty, a toolkit for groups to lead their own dialogues, post-debate facilitated dialogues, and advising for student groups who hope to incorporate voter engagement into their programming. Additionally, we are heavily involved in championing voter registration among undergraduate and graduate students on both the Danforth and Medical Campuses.
A Simple Registration Process with TurboVote
The Gephardt institute has partnered with TurboVote to make the voter registration process as easy as possible. Students, staff, and faculty can register as a voter, request an absentee ballot, or re-register with a change of address in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through a single online platform. TurboVote also invites users to request text message or email reminders about upcoming elections. An enthusiastic team of student, staff, and faculty representatives comprise the Voter Engagement Team, which will be instrumental in bringing voter registration efforts to life across the university.
Civic Dialogue Initiative
The cornerstone of our engagement effort is our Civic Dialogue initiative. Individuals who talk about election related issues are much more likely to vote not only in the current election, but also throughout their lives. The Civic Dialogue initiative is grounded in respectful discussion of big questions which teach life skills and also nurture participation at the polls.
This initiative will invite members of the WashU Community to participate in civic dialogues facilitated by trained graduate students following each of the four debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We aim to:
- Provide students with the opportunity to engage in a respectful discussion relating to the election;
- Promote understanding and respect of the individual regardless of point of view, dismantling stereotypes of those on “opposite sides of the aisle”; and
- Encourage students to think about why they believe what they believe.
The Gephardt Institute is also partnering with Campus Life, Student Union, and the Graduate Professional Council to form the WashU Votes committee. The WashU Votes website serves as a centralized portal through which community members can find comprehensive information about election-related programming and resources. This committee will also sponsor a fund to support student-led election-year programming.
Through our review of national best practices, we have learned that while voter registration is essential, it is only part of an effective voter engagement strategy. The Gephardt Institute is committed to a comprehensive effort that cultivates a campus climate of dialogue and political participation that is evident 365 days a year and will inspire a lifelong commitment to informed and active participation in the electoral process.
 Data from the Pew Research Center as reported by National Public Radio.
 All data from WashU’s 2012 National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement report.