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POLITICS new perspective

July 31, 2018

STAMFORD — The number of young voters who have registered since 2016 has tripled in Connecticut compared to four years ago — a sign of how deep the interest has reached in this year’s midterm elections.

More than 43,000 18-to-25-year-olds have registered to vote in Connecticut since Donald Trump was elected president — a 210 percent increase over the same 20-month period after the 2012 general election, according to the state Board of Elections.

There has been a similar trend in Stamford, where the number of residents under the age of 24 who registered to vote since the 2016 election has been nearly three times more than the amount who registered in that age group after the 2012 election.

In addition to driving a boom in young voter registration, the divisive political atmosphere has also spurred new interest on college campuses. At the University of Connecticut-Stamford, for example, students this spring established Democrat and Republican groups for the first time in recent memory.

“There is the sense that things are spiraling out of control and older generations are either fine with it or apathetic,” said UConn-Stamford student Corey Frate, 20, a Darien resident. “We don’t want people in their 70s making decisions for us.”

Others, including those who just reached the voting age, are driven by specific issues, primarily gun control among students.

Natalie Held, who is entering her sophomore year at UConn-Stamford, registered to vote soon after turning 18 when she saw the Las Vegas massacre unfold.

“Given the political climate, we’re registering and we’re going to change the world, hopefully,” she said.

Eloisa Melendez, 24, president of UConn-Stamford’s Democratic group and a member of the Norwalk Common Council for the last five years, said the youth boom can be attributed to two seminal moments.

In 2008, she said young people were inspired by the messages of Barack Obama, and now the impetus is the divisive political climate.

Other than in 2008, “there wasn’t anything really that huge to get young people into politics,” she said. “After the 2016 election, younger people — whether they’re tweeting, retweeting or going to marches — are getting much more involved.”

Why the increase?

Connecticut’s youth voter surge is due to increased interest in issues such as school safety and immigration, as well as dedicated campaigns to register youth voters, and recent changes that make registration easier.

“There has clearly been an increase in voter registration and interest in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm election, and there is no doubt that is true among Connecticut’s young voters,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said. “Our efforts to ensure that every eligible voter can register, and every registered voter votes are beginning to pay dividends.”

The tripling of newly registered young adults in Connecticut is not expected to have as large an impact on the Aug. 14 primaries as it could have on the November election for governor, Congress, and other races, because 56 percent of the new voters are not affiliated with a major party.

Even so, the number of young voters who have registered as Republicans represents a 241 percent increase over four years ago at 5,274. The number of newly registered Democrats aged 18-to-25 represents a 159 percent increase compared to the 20 months after the 2012 election, at 12,744.

“We’ve been all over college campuses in Connecticut and it’s true — everyone is talking about voter registration,” says J.R. Romano, the state GOP chairman.

The youth surge is part of a larger increase in voter registration in Connecticut since the 2016 election. Across all ages, newly registered Republicans are up 169 percent compared to the same midterm cycle four years ago, and newly registered Democrats are up 138 percent, according to the state’s latest figures.

All the interest in a non-presidential election can be explained in two words, according to one political observer.

“It’s the Trump effect,” said Gary Rose, professor and chairman of Sacred Heart University’s Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies. “Politics is at a boiling point not just in Connecticut but across the country, and you have a president who is very polarizing.”

Jaclyn Corin agrees.

The 17-year-old is a co-founder of the March for Our Lives Movement, begun by students after the Valentine’s Day massacre of 17 students and staff at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — the deadliest school shooting in America since the 2012 massacre of 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook School.

Corin is participating in a tour to raise awareness about gun safety and encourage youth voter registration.

“Young people are starting to see how government works, and how it affects them personally,” Corin said. “And they want to get involved before it is too late.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342

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