Campus Vote Undone by Virus Could Tip Balance in Close Election
By Andre Tartar and Gregory Korte
Closed college campuses, a decline in enrollment, and obstacles for first-time voters could depress the student-age vote in Tuesday’s election, possibly depriving Democrat Joe Biden of votes from shuttered college towns in battleground states.
That’s despite more young voters casting ballots early than ever before, with enthusiasm rivaling the 2008 election that put Barack Obama in the White House.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted voting for millions of Americans, as states have shifted to mail-in and early voting to accommodate fears of contagion. Already, more than 80 million ballots have been cast, with indications of more first-time voters under 30 compared to 2016. The situation is less rosy for one subset of that group: the millions of students displaced from campus settings that drive turnout.
“Most research seems to indicate that voting is contagious,” said Hillary Shulman, who studies political communication on campus at the Ohio State University. “The influence of students on other students’ voting is certainly a force. If we’re totally diluting that force because all the students aren’t there, that’s going to have an impact.”