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Kansas universities see increase in voter participation by students

Wichita State University

Across the nation, universities saw students engaging more in the voting process.

Kansas’ three largest universities saw an increase in student voting during the 2020 election, according to Tufts University.

The data comes from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement at Tufts. The study allows universities to see how their students participate in the voting process.

The University of Kansas and Wichita State saw a nearly 20% increase in voter turnout compared to the 2016 election. Kansas State’s voter turnout increased by 22%.

The national average for voter turnout across all institutions was 66%. All three of Kansas’ largest universities exceed that turnout: KU, 71%; WSU, 68% and K-State, 67%.

WSU Political Scientist Neal Allen said getting more people engaged in the democratic process is good news.

“One reason why it’s important to get younger people to vote is that voting is a habit,” Allen said. “People are more likely to vote in middle age if they’ve voted when they’re younger, they’re more likely to vote when they’re older if they voted in their middle age.

“So any effort to get people involved pays dividends over their lifetime.”

Historically, younger people don’t vote as often as older generations. But with increased voter outreach efforts and competitive elections, that’s begun to change.

During the 2020 election, WSU began to engage college students in the electoral process with their Shockers Vote! coalition.

“What we really tried to do was think about what were students going to respond to, how we were going to provide some of those experiences in a virtual world, and how are we going to try to make it convenient?” said Gabriel Fonseca, head of the coalition.

The coalition held voter registration drives, town halls with local candidates, and tested a polling location at Koch Arena during early voting.

It hopes to continue its work in future elections - including making the arena a permanent voting location.

“I think for me it’s important that universities do this because these four years are the times we get the ability to teach and educate and train students about what life is going to be like when college is over,” Fonseca said.

According to Allen, universities in south-central Kansas are a good location to find voters from both sides of the aisle.

“In the last decade or two, younger people have been moving more Democratic and less Republican in their voting behavior, and so the more young people are registered, on balance, probably the better liberals and Democrats do,” he said.

“Although, there are plenty of young Republicans and young conservatives, and actually if you want to find a large number of conservative votes in an election in south-central Kansas, students wouldn’t be a bad place to look.”

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.