Just a half hour away from SIUE’s main campus, with only a river as a divider, St. Louis is seeing great political change fueled by young voters and racial reckoning.
With the short distance between the main campus, the Alton school of Dental Medicine and the East St. Louis Center, it’s only natural that the politics of Missouri have a large impact on many SIUE community members. Political Science Professor Timothy Lewis said the two cities have a worker relationship that benefits them both.
“There’s this connection because there are people who live in St. Louis and work in Edwardsville, like myself, and then there are people who live in Edwardsville and work in St. Louis. So, there is this commuter exchange that makes people in Edwardsville invested in St. Louis, and people in St. Louis invested in Edwardsville,” Lewis said.
The protests St. Louis has seen aren’t entirely new. Protests have been going on in America for years – longer than just the past decade. Political Science Professor Andrew Theising said the main difference with the protests today is the factor of awareness.
“What I see changing in St. Louis … is awareness,” Theising said. “People are now asking questions not about others, but about themselves. I really think many people are saying, ‘How am I privileged? How does this touch me? How do I contribute to this situation?’”
Another apparent change over the last decade is in the voting population itself. Congressional Candidate Cori Bush has almost secured her election, and according to Lewis, that is due to the increasingly small baby boomer vote. Lewis said this is leaving space for millennials to take the baby boomers’ place.
“[Baby boomers] are passing on. According to PEW Research, the largest politically active group now are millennials, and millennials tend to be pro-diversity, pro-equality, pro-inclusion. So now, the largest politically active group has a different approach to politics,” Lewis said.
The vote from both millennials and Generation Z is becoming more and more important. Lewis’s claim was corroborated by Political Science Professor Laurie Rice, who said the clearest trend in student voting habits right now is young adults voting at higher rates. According to Rice, young adults are a large reason why the 2018 midterm elections turned out the way they did.
“This generation leans more to the left. There are a lot more self-identified Democrats than self-identified Republicans, but there is also a substantial portion of the young adult population who labels themselves as independent, that feels like neither party fully represents their views,” Rice said.
Rice said she has a few explanations as to why young people are voting more and more.
“Those who weren’t quite old enough to vote in 2016 saw what happened in 2016, and I think that was a motivating factor to say, ‘votes matter,’ ‘our votes could have changed things,’ so it brought more people to the polls,” Rice said. “Also, we started to see some movements that were concentrated among young adults that emphasized the role of voting. The biggest one that comes to mind is the March for our Lives movement against gun violence.”
Students in Madison County who want to vote can learn how to register on the county’s website.