Women can change American politics in 2018, but there’s a catch

Image courtesy of Sofia Buchler / The Occidental.

If you haven’t noticed, female candidates are poised to shake up the political scene this November.

Take Stacey Abrams, for instance. Abrams is the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, running against two-term incumbent Brian Kemp in a state that hasn’t seen a Democratic governor since 1998. This trend, combined with the fact that Abrams is a black woman running in a Deep South state, suggests an uphill battle. In fact, it is — but according to a recent poll, she’s trailing Kemp by a mere 0.4 points.

Or consider a candidate closer to Occidental: Katie Hill, Democratic candidate for California’s 25th Congressional District, which is located in Southern California. According to a recent poll, Hill, who has never held political office before and openly identifies as bisexual, is within two points of her opponent, Steve Knight. The 25th District hasn’t swung Democrat since 1992, and yet Hill, who is running on a progressive platform, stands to change that.

Both stories feel like outliers, but evidence suggests otherwise. The 2018 election cycle has a record number of women nominees running for the Democratic Party. They’ve prioritized issues such as health care reform, keeping abortion legal and addressing governmental corruption. If elected, they could help balance the male and Republican-dominated Congress, more accurately represent an increasingly diverse nation and bring new energy into an otherwise stagnant Congress.

Candidates like Abrams and Hill can bring about positive change and represent the diversity of their constituencies — but first, we need to elect them. If we don’t, Congress will stay the same, and, if the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh confirm anything, we’ll be worse off for it.

Image courtesy of Alice Feng / The Occidental.

According to PBS, voter turnout during the 2014 midterms hit a 70-year low. That’s just 36.4 percent of all eligible voters, which means that 63.6 percent of voters could have had a say, but didn’t. Data from the United States Election Project states that in the 2016 elections, approximately 205 million people were eligible voters. Quick math shows that roughly 130 million people didn’t vote in the 2016 election, which is a lot of people — that’s five times more than the entire population of Australia.

In a recent speech, former President and Oxy Alumnus Barack Obama ’83 called out a demographic especially guilty of not voting: young people.

“Don’t retreat. Don’t binge on whatever it is you’re binging on,” Obama said. “Don’t put your head in the sand. Don’t boo. Vote.”

Obama is right to target young people. If 36.4 percent constitutes poor voter turnout, consider that in 2014, only 19.9 percent of all eligible voters ages 18 to 29 voted. That is depressingly low. The fact that Obama, who has spent his post-presidency days laying low, returned to the public sphere to make this statement shows how pressing this issue is.

Obama gets to the heart of one of the major problems plaguing low voter turnout: that people feel like their votes don’t matter.

A single voter not voting isn’t a problem. But if 5,000 people think the same, that their vote is insignificant, then it does matter. For a candidate like Hill, for whom the margin of victory could very well be 5,000 votes, it is important to vote.

To see if Occidental students fell in line with the general trend of low youth voter turnout, I conducted a brief online poll. Interestingly, Oxy students defied the norm. As of this writing, 84.4 percent of those polled said they were currently registered and 87.2 percent said they would register and vote in November.

However, these numbers came from a sample of 109 students, which represents about 18.9 percent of Oxy’s 2,055 students. Even if we account for international students, there is still a significant percentage of students whose opinions and voter status are currently unknown.

Occidental prides itself on its student activism and diversity. Between organizing efforts like the 2015 Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center occupation and a recent Student-Labor Alliance rally, and student groups such as Oxy DemocratsBlack Student Alliance and Latinx Student Union, it’s clear that students want to and are willing to get involved in activism. We can’t call ourselves a politically-minded school if we’re failing at one of the most basic civic duties.

If people want to see a change this November, they will need to get out and vote. People can hype “insert-candidate-here” and how great their platform is, but if people — especially young people — don’t show up Nov. 6, nothing will happen. Exciting candidates like Abrams, Hill, Stephany Rose Spaulding and Ayanna Presley, unfortunately, cannot win on memes and good vibes alone.

But just registering to vote isn’t enough. If the statistics from 2014 indicate anything, young people need to get other young people involved. So talk to your friends, your roommate and the people you’re trapped in a group project with and make sure they’re registered and informed about midterms. The internet is an excellent place to get started.

As a call to all Oxy students, a former Tiger puts it best:

“You need to vote because our democracy depends on it,” Obama said.

Pablo Nukaya-Petralia is a junior art and art history major. He can be reached at pnukayapetra@oxy.edu.