What Young Voters Are Talking About Going Into Election Day

Damaris Samano, a student at Golden West College, plans to vote in this year's primary and general elections. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

Young voter turnout has increased in the last two election cycles. So what's driving them to the ballot box in California?

In interviews on campuses around the region, young voters were galvanized by progressive issues such as tackling climate change, racial and social injustice, and the high cost of housing.

But there's also ample support for more conservative views — and both are energizing 18-to-24-year-olds.

"We are expecting to see high turnout from young people in California and throughout the United States," said Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at USC. "A lot of that is because of the political context that we're in... we're seeing a lot of young people kind of galvanized, interested, following politics."

There's a palpable nervousness among some young voters when they talk about some of those issues, especially climate change.

"It's like we have 10 years before it's irreversible, we have nine years, we have eight years, and so that's really scary," said Chapman University freshman Emma Charles. "Especially because, like, we're going to want to have kids and families and stuff and you don't want to bring someone into this world when it's irreversible damage."

Poster for a voter engagement event at California State University, Northridge. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez)

BEING RED IN A BLUE STATE

Students on the opposite side of the political spectrum sometimes find it difficult to find a forum for their views.

"It's hard in a state like California to be young and to be conservative," Romero said. "We forget that we have young conservatives in this state, which is really unfortunate for the larger public dialogue. It's unfortunate for young people who are conservative who want to hear from candidates who want their opinions and their voices to be recognized."

Back at Chapman, along a walkway with busts of conservative icons Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, some students were eager to discuss their point of view.

"I think that President Trump has done a fantastic job at building a robust economy for the United States in his past term," said freshman Matt Cotti, who says he's a fiscal and social conservative but expresses enough political flexibility to vote for a Democrat.

"Just because I'm a registered Republican by no means, means [that] I can't vote across the line or hear what everybody else has to say," he said.

About 30 minutes away, at Golden West College, another student described a very different kind of personal political conservatism.

"I'm a Christian," said business major Damaris Samano.

Abortion is one of the biggest issues for her.

"It's hard to talk to people about it because they're so centered in [that] it's a woman's body, it's a woman's choice," she said. "But it's not really their choice if it affects another person's body like the body inside of their own body."

That view comes from her family and the apostolic church she attends in Santa Ana.

She sees herself voting for President Trump because he's opposed to abortion. But she can't stand Trump's vitriol against immigrants and his push to build a wall at the border.

"Both my parents are Mexican. They're from Mexico. I'm first-generation here," she said.

She, too, is open to voting for a Democrat.

CSU Northridge students Mayra Rendon Lopez and Alan Molina attend a campus voter engagement event. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

She didn't say who that might be, but it's doubtful conservatives will back the preferred candidate among many students — Bernie Sanders.

"He's created a narrative around him, that he's a trusted candidate, that he is a sincere candidate, that he's the only candidate that really thinks about working class or low-income voters," Romero said, recounting what young supporters have told her.

During a voter engagement event at Cal State Northridge, senior Mayra Rendon Lopez explained why she's backing Sanders.

"I think for me, it's a lot of civil rights and also a lot of transparency and not just with government officials, but also corporations and companies," she said.

Jenna Newman, a Beverly Hills High School graduate who is attending Chapman University, wasn't sold yet on a particular candidate, but she does plan to vote for the first time on Tuesday.

"There's never a perfect candidate but I think we do have some good options, and I like talking to friends about it, family, hearing everyone's opinion."


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