Tufts places a heavy emphasis on civic engagement. Between the dozens of service groups under the Leonard Carmichael Society and the abundance of political and activist groups as well as the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the many groups it sponsors, a great number of students are involved with outside communities and are working toward positive change.
Yet when looking at the disappointingly small 25.3 percent voter turnout in the fall 2017 election for student government, there seems to be some disconnect. After all, 63.2 percent of Tufts students voted in the 2016 presidential election.
One would think that such engaged students would surely vote in the most local election that could impact their experience at Tufts. In the past, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate instituted Late Night Dining and a textbook exchange as well as helped expand printing opportunities. Yet despite this, turnout remains incredibly low.
In the fall 2017 election, students voted for seven Class of 2021 senators, two TCU Judiciary seats and one First-Generation Community Senator. In this election, first-year students were more engaged, making up 52 percent of the voters.
One potential explanation for this is that there were more positions for first-years to elect. First-years had the opportunity to elect almost a quarter of Senate, while non-first-years could only vote for the Judiciary and for the first generation senator. While these are all important positions, it is very likely that first-years voted at a higher rate because they had a greater opportunity to have their voices heard.
In the spring, all Senate positions for the other classes will be up for election. The most recent spring election, in April, had a turnout of 28.73 percent. But when factoring out graduating students (whose vote would not bring direct change to their experience at Tufts), the voter turnout can be estimated at 38.05 percent. A more nuanced analysis thus lets us increase voter turnout by almost 10 percent. Still that level of turnout leaves much to be desired.
Beyond the nuances of calculating voter turnout, myriad factors remain that influence a student’s decision to vote. Some students may not believe that student government can effect change because they think the administration often ignores Senate resolutions. Others may choose not to vote because there is not enough distinction between candidates, or in some cases, because the candidate is running uncontested and will win by default, as Benya Kraus did in the last presidential election.
On the other hand, this could also be a question of simple advertising. How many students actually knew about the election or TCU beforehand? These are only a few possibilities, but if we are to make meaningful change and improve voter turnout, we must conduct more research to better understand why so many students are disengaged from student government. While Tisch College has thoroughly analyzed student turnout in past presidential elections (2012 and 2016), it is time for them to take a look at Tufts’ own elections.