BH: It seems like with these rallies last weekend, there was a real crackling in the air. People registering kids right there at the rallies. And you can register now when you’re 17, coming up into the midterms. Is there a chance that the interest will wane? There’s some months between now and November.
KG: That’s correct. Registering young people is, of course, very important, but it’s often not enough. There are many ways we can keep young people engaged, though. One of them is to really make sure that they can feel like they can do something at their local community. Some of the ways in which to do that is [to] make sure young people are motivating their own friends and families, uncles and aunts, and even grandparents. Also, they can work at polling places in some states, including, I believe, Massachusetts, where young people can be [a] really active part of the process even before they’re actually eligible to vote.
BH: But young people do tend to turn out in much smaller numbers than older voters.
KG: That’s correct. Traditionally, they’ve turned out at the lower numbers; it is especially the case in midterm elections. Last midterm election we measured youth turnout was 2014, and nationwide only 20 percent of under 30s actually turned out.
BH: Do you think this time it’s different, having seen the rallies last weekend?
KG: There are certainly great indicators of hope. One is that there’s of course been a lot of enthusiasm and passion from young people, and it’s for the movement that’s started by and led by young people. So they’re certainly taking the lead and really putting a stake in the ground to say, we’re not going to wait for a political leader to come to us and talk about the issues that’s important to them, but we’re going to tell them what’s important to us, and they’re going to put that on their agenda. So it’s certainly promising. We’re also seeing other polling that there is a lot of young people saying we’re enthusiastic about coming out to vote in November, and also the suggestion that they actually may be signing up with political parties, especially the Democratic Party, more than they did before.
I’d also note the clear connection between this social movement’s agenda and voting. The youth who are working for gun control are on the same side as the majority of all voters; it’s just elected officials who block the legislation they want. The solution is to vote new politicians in. Voting is more fraught and complicated for radical social movements that challenge mainstream public opinion or that lack allies in electoral politics (or both). Thus I would predict a bigger electoral impact from the gun control movement than from other recent social movements.