But I’m not into politics: The best ways to leverage your chapter influence to create engaged members citizens


There is a saying in the world of politics that “all politics is local.” It rings true more often than not, especially on college campuses.

I am never surprised that political candidates, let alone elected officials, do not ever darken the door of the campus student center for any reason whatsoever. But why? It is because you don’t vote!

Young adults have had the worst turnout of any age group in every election since the U.S. Census Bureau began keeping track of voter-age data in in 1964 for presidential races and in 1978 for midterm races. The United States Election Project, which analyzes Census data, finds that 18-to-29-year-olds have the lowest turnout rate and make up the lowest percentage of overall voters. Additionally, even though 18-to-29-year-olds saw the greatest increase in voters of any age group in 2018 early-voting returns, they still made up the lowest percentage of early voters.

As a classroom instructor for longer than you’ve been alive, students have told me “I’m not political, but my advisor said I need to take your class to graduate.” My response is to take out a 20-dollar bill, hold it up and ask the following: “Are you here to get a degree so that you can make some of this?” Without fail, with the notable exception of one young woman who said she wanted to join a convent, everyone nods their head affirmatively.

I follow with this demonstration. I take the bill, fold it in thirds and rip off one end, and say: “This is what will happen to every dollar that you ever earn, up to one-third of it will be taken away by the government before you ever get a chance to spend it. You have to tell me, what about your life is not political?

This is why your folks and your grandparents are indeed political, because it is their hard- earned money that makes the political world turn.

The candidates know that you don’t have stacks of cash to make it rain on their campaign, so voting is the only reason why they would ever bother to pay attention to you. If you don’t vote, there is little to no reason why they would woo you. For the politically motivated among you, there is always campaign work such as canvassing, door knocking, phone banking and essentially doing go-fer work for little or no pay. While it may not be for everyone, it can be exciting and intoxicating, especially if the candidate or the cause is exciting and meaningful.

In the lead-up to the midterm elections of 2018, there was a swell of appeals to the country’s youngest voters. Survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting launched a nationwide voter-registration drive. Dozens of celebrities organized a live-streamed telethon aimed at directing young voters to the polls. In a rare political message, Taylor Swift, notably silent throughout the 2016 election, urged her 112 million Instagram followers to research their candidates and cast their vote.

It seems to be working.

Results from ABC exit polls suggested that voters ages 18 to 29 made up 13 percent of the overall electorate in this year’s midterms, up from 11 percent in 2014. While early voting across every age group increased compared with the 2014 midterms, the surge is most pronounced among voters ages 18 to 29. More than 3.3 million voters from that group cast their votes early. That’s a 188 percent increase from 2014, according to data from TargetSmart, a political-data-analysis firm.

This means that people are now paying attention to what young people care about and the impact that it will have if they vote.

How can you take this exciting bit of information and use it to, as I say in the title of this piece, leverage your chapter influence to create engaged members citizens? This is easy. Let’s call it The 2020 Challenge. There are 14 months until the next national elections, but in some instances, less than 6 months until the first round of primaries in the 2020 election cycle.

Voting is a chance for each and every citizen to have a voice in election outcomes and become fully engaged and informed. To me, this would be something that would be transformative, and, I imagine, bring attention to the real needs and concerns of America’s next generation of leaders.


Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado was named Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Success at the University of Nebraska Omaha in October 2014. He serves as the chief student affairs officer with oversight of diversity, inclusion and equity issues on campus. This includes the divisions of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Project Achieve (TRIO Program), The Dreamers Pathway Scholarship Program and the Underserved Law Opportunity Program. A Professor of Political Science, he has been instrumental in the creation of scholarship and pathway programs at UNO serving first–generation college students and other under-represented groups.

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