Virginia’s gubernatorial election is November 2nd, but student involvement in the statewide race is languishing.
After a tumultuous year of health concerns, climate issues, and political divisiveness, larger concerns take precedence in the minds of Woodbridge students than a seemingly irrelevant local election. Although there is a national trend of increased youth participation in politics and protests such as Black Lives Matter according to the Rolling Stone Magazine, this pattern has not carried over into local Virginia politics. Furthermore, this general apathy towards the governor’s race may become a problem, and many factors contribute to this indifference that should be addressed.
Current Governor Ralph Northam cannot run for reelection because the Virginia Constitution prohibits governors from running for consecutive terms. This leaves the position open for new candidates seeking office. The current race is between Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, and tensions have escalated among voters as the election draws closer.
McAuliffe was Virginia’s Governor previously and has a significant advantage over politically inexperienced Youngkin. The polls reflect this with McAuliffe polling at 47.3% and Youngkin at 44.4%, a comfortable 3-point lead. However, Youngkin is popular among conservatives because of his experience in business, his endorsement from former President Trump and other national Republican figureheads raising the stakes of this tight race.
This election is more important than most voters realize because Virginia’s elections typically reflect national trends. According to the Washington Post, with its proximity to the nation’s capital, the outcome of this statewide election could reflect similar sentiments in the next national election, causing worry among Democrats about their grip on the state and the White House. With these stakes in mind, it has never been more critical for voters of all age groups to be involved in local politics.
Despite this political deadlock, many students are unaware of the importance of this election. In a survey of Woodbridge students enrolled in a government class, 43.5% answered that they are not at all invested in the statewide election, and 56.5% of students said that they supported neither candidate.
“Students are more worried about national events than local ones,” Woodbridge Senior Thalicia Elias remarked when questioned further about her views. “Much less is happening locally rather than nationally.”
Emma Howard shared this sentiment, pointing out that, “Local elections typically have lower turnout rates than national ones and receive less media coverage. The last presidential election also overshadowed this upcoming governor’s race.”
Woodbridge Government teacher Ms. Rowland offered a different perspective, stating, “Teaching government, I’ve seen increased interest in voting, but maybe not for this Governor’s race specifically. With the pandemic more students want to be involved in the political process, but there has been a lack of awareness around this upcoming election.”
Another significant contribution to student indifference is the distance between state affairs and their personal lives.
“A lot of students feel like it doesn’t involve them,” Sterling Wiggins observed in an interview. “It hasn’t been a big factor in my family, and it feels like something parents should be involved with.”
An anonymous student remarked on common college anxiety pulling attention away from the race for most students, commenting, “I haven’t been too involved with any of the recent politics because I’ve been focusing on knowing what I want to do after high school.”
Investment in elections is critical to the health and survival of democracy, and young voices are vital to consider for equal representation. Politics at all stages affect every citizen in the country, which is why government engagement with students is crucial. Woodbridge students had many ideas when asked how the process could be improved to engage more interest among young voters.
“Politicians and organizations should increase their outreach to students and provide more opportunities for young voters to be involved,” Jasmine Rorrer explained on the topic. “They should provide internships, hold county interest meetings, and talk to schools to engage more students in the political process.”
An anonymous student remarked on improving the spread of information, explaining, “If there was a greater social media presence, more people would be invested.”
Most students would pay greater attention to political events if they had greater exposure and more opportunities to be involved. However, most candidates disregard the younger population because this demographic consists of fewer voters. If given the chance to participate, many students would become better informed and contribute to the political process as more responsible citizens.
Politicians must include younger populations in their campaigns. The outcome of this gubernatorial race is the reason younger generations need to be involved. The future of political processes, campaigns, and issues lies in the hands of the youth, which is why it is urgent to reverse the trend of disinterest. Democracy dies in darkness, but the country’s faith in the youth is the light.