Domenico Pensa III, a Hofstra law student, checks his voter registration...

Domenico Pensa III, a Hofstra law student, checks his voter registration status with the help of Hofstra student volunteers Leah Wrazin, middle, and Cristianna Giovanangelo Nicotera, last month. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Young voters proved consequential in the presidential election year of 2020, pollsters said, and their turnout again could prove critical in giving an edge to candidates in the midterm elections on Tuesday.

Issues agitating the electorate at large — from the loss of a constitutional right to abortion, to election fraud allegations, to inflation — are resonating among college students, with no guarantees which will most propel students to the polls.

A new nextLI/Newsday Hofstra poll finds that 70.8% of respondents ages 18-24 were very or somewhat likely to vote for governor, and 64.9% for congressional candidates. 

The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has emerged as one key issue, rattling activists such as Lauren Blake, 20, a student at Adelphi University in Garden City.

 Blake, a junior majoring in political science, identifies as a “gender queer individual” and is president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. She sees the overturn of Roe as undermining other decisions based on a federal right to privacy, such as gay marriage, and said it was a “wake-up call for many people … that local elections are just as important as national elections.”

At Stony Brook University, a Democratic congressional candidate drew a capacity crowd of 100 students, said Ocean Karim, 21, president of the College Democrats: “We hit the fire safety cap” for the room, he said, adding that he sees the campus as a “liberal bubble in a Republican county.”

Political-discussion events on topics like health care, abortion rights and climate change draw vocal attendees, he said: "That's where we see how opinionated and steadfast people are with what they believe in." 

Progressive students are not the only ones who say they intend to show up at the polls.

 “I believe that there are a lot more Republicans and conservative-minded people on campus than you would think, but they are not as vocal about it,” said Sara Adcock, 19, a junior health service major from Merrick and the new president of the College Republicans at Stony Brook. “We might have only 20 members, but we have so many people come up to us at events and say, ‘I love what you do.’ ”

On a weekend last month, club members volunteered for phone banks, literature drops and door-knocking for local Republican candidates, and hosted candidate events on campus. More is planned. 

“For our campus, we have a very big push to get people registered to vote,” on "both sides," Adcock said.

Every Wednesday since the start of the fall semester at Hofstra University in Hempstead, students including senior Kayla Stadeker, 21, have staffed voter registration tables on campus. “I definitely see there is lots of engagement,” she said, adding that student opinions “lean both ways. … I would say one thing that is motivating them to vote is, a lot of the discourse in the media is about the election. It’s hard to avoid talking about it.”

But, she said, polarization has not sparked confrontation. “Discussions tend to be pretty tame in my experience, not a lot of vigorous argument, no,” she said.

Senior Sarah Stauffer, like Stadeker a fellow at Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement, has doubts about how much of a factor young voters ultimately will be in the election.

“I do not believe that there will be a higher turnout within my generation. I hope there will be, but I also think that my generation has a tendency to be outraged by an issue, and then when the initial shock wears off, they tend to fall back into complacency,” Stauffer said, adding she doesn’t know many people who plan on voting.

“We show up to the protests and post about issues, but when it comes to accessing long-term change, we don't always show up,” she said.

Young people have long been seen as voting in far lower percentages than older voters, although their participation rates have been rising. In 2020, 66% of students aged 18 to 24 voted in the presidential election, up from 52% in 2016, according to a national study of over 1,050 colleges and universities.

Separately, the nextLI/Newsday Hofstra poll found that 87.3% of respondents ages 18-24 on Long Island said they were very or somewhat likely to vote for president, while 97.3% of those 65 and older said they were very likely to.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra's National Center for Suburban Studies, said young voters have "overwhelmingly" preferred Democrats in recent elections, and while they have failed to turn out to vote in midterms in the past, there were rising rates of participation in 2018 and 2020. However, he said, a decline in turnout of young voters or of Latino or Asian American voters "could be devastating to Democrats in an otherwise close election."

Part of the problem now, Stauffer said, is what she sees as a growing distrust in the election process itself in a climate of widespread contentions of voter fraud or voter suppression. “There is definitely mistrust on both sides,” she said.

And, she said, social media is a huge influence on young voters that may fly under the radar of more mainstream news sources. Conservative voices such as commentator Ben Shapiro, a YouTube media host, and Turning Point USA “are huge.… They have been working hard to reach people. It is mostly right-wing messaging that I'm receiving and a lot of my peers are as well.”

University administrations are taking a lead in fostering voter registration, lending support and oversight through entities including Stony Brook’s Center for Civic Justice and Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement.

Ashley Mercado, assistant director of the Stony Brook center, works with clubs across the political spectrum and sees a revival of participation after several pandemic years of solely online club activity.

“We’re seeing a livelier campus in general, across the board,“ she said. “Students feel more comfortable attending things in person, and we are definitely seeing students wanting to be more involved and having a say on what’s going on.” 

Yet she sees many young voters feeling “overwhelmed with the political process. A lot of students have difficulty differentiating what different officials do.”

That wouldn’t apply to Nicholas Costanzo, a freshman at Hofstra who interns for Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor. Costanzo, 18, of Bethpage, is a new member of the College Republicans, and while he sees a progressive edge in voter sentiments on campus, he thinks there are plenty of quiet Republicans who will “vote, vote, vote.”

Costanzo also observes that political intensity isn’t broadly distributed.

“What’s funny, the people that talk about the elections are those who are into politics, who understand politics,” he said. “The others don’t seem to care about politics. They care about their grades and what they are going to buy at the cafe.”

Young voters proved consequential in the presidential election year of 2020, pollsters said, and their turnout again could prove critical in giving an edge to candidates in the midterm elections on Tuesday.

Issues agitating the electorate at large — from the loss of a constitutional right to abortion, to election fraud allegations, to inflation — are resonating among college students, with no guarantees which will most propel students to the polls.

A new nextLI/Newsday Hofstra poll finds that 70.8% of respondents ages 18-24 were very or somewhat likely to vote for governor, and 64.9% for congressional candidates. 

The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has emerged as one key issue, rattling activists such as Lauren Blake, 20, a student at Adelphi University in Garden City.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Interest in voter registration is high on campus but turnout still is in question.
  • Issues animating the national election debate also resonate on campus: from reproductive rights to inflation, election security and voting rights, gun rights, climate change, student debt and health care.
  • Young voters have favored Democrats in past elections and any falloff in their turnout could have consequences in close elections.

 Blake, a junior majoring in political science, identifies as a “gender queer individual” and is president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. She sees the overturn of Roe as undermining other decisions based on a federal right to privacy, such as gay marriage, and said it was a “wake-up call for many people … that local elections are just as important as national elections.”

At Stony Brook University, a Democratic congressional candidate drew a capacity crowd of 100 students, said Ocean Karim, 21, president of the College Democrats: “We hit the fire safety cap” for the room, he said, adding that he sees the campus as a “liberal bubble in a Republican county.”

Political-discussion events on topics like health care, abortion rights and climate change draw vocal attendees, he said: "That's where we see how opinionated and steadfast people are with what they believe in." 

Progressive students are not the only ones who say they intend to show up at the polls.

 “I believe that there are a lot more Republicans and conservative-minded people on campus than you would think, but they are not as vocal about it,” said Sara Adcock, 19, a junior health service major from Merrick and the new president of the College Republicans at Stony Brook. “We might have only 20 members, but we have so many people come up to us at events and say, ‘I love what you do.’ ”

On a weekend last month, club members volunteered for phone banks, literature drops and door-knocking for local Republican candidates, and hosted candidate events on campus. More is planned. 

“For our campus, we have a very big push to get people registered to vote,” on "both sides," Adcock said.

Stony Brook University students Ocean Karim, left, president of the...

Stony Brook University students Ocean Karim, left, president of the College Democrats, and Sara Adcock, president of the College Republicans.

Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Every Wednesday since the start of the fall semester at Hofstra University in Hempstead, students including senior Kayla Stadeker, 21, have staffed voter registration tables on campus. “I definitely see there is lots of engagement,” she said, adding that student opinions “lean both ways. … I would say one thing that is motivating them to vote is, a lot of the discourse in the media is about the election. It’s hard to avoid talking about it.”

But, she said, polarization has not sparked confrontation. “Discussions tend to be pretty tame in my experience, not a lot of vigorous argument, no,” she said.

'We don't always show up'

Senior Sarah Stauffer, like Stadeker a fellow at Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement, has doubts about how much of a factor young voters ultimately will be in the election.

“I do not believe that there will be a higher turnout within my generation. I hope there will be, but I also think that my generation has a tendency to be outraged by an issue, and then when the initial shock wears off, they tend to fall back into complacency,” Stauffer said, adding she doesn’t know many people who plan on voting.

“We show up to the protests and post about issues, but when it comes to accessing long-term change, we don't always show up,” she said.

Young people have long been seen as voting in far lower percentages than older voters, although their participation rates have been rising. In 2020, 66% of students aged 18 to 24 voted in the presidential election, up from 52% in 2016, according to a national study of over 1,050 colleges and universities.

Separately, the nextLI/Newsday Hofstra poll found that 87.3% of respondents ages 18-24 on Long Island said they were very or somewhat likely to vote for president, while 97.3% of those 65 and older said they were very likely to.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra's National Center for Suburban Studies, said young voters have "overwhelmingly" preferred Democrats in recent elections, and while they have failed to turn out to vote in midterms in the past, there were rising rates of participation in 2018 and 2020. However, he said, a decline in turnout of young voters or of Latino or Asian American voters "could be devastating to Democrats in an otherwise close election."

Hofstra freshman Peris Roney registers in her home state of...

Hofstra freshman Peris Roney registers in her home state of Pennsylvania and casts an absentee ballot last month with the help of student volunteers Leah Wrazin, center, and Cristianna Giovanangelo Nicotera.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Part of the problem now, Stauffer said, is what she sees as a growing distrust in the election process itself in a climate of widespread contentions of voter fraud or voter suppression. “There is definitely mistrust on both sides,” she said.

And, she said, social media is a huge influence on young voters that may fly under the radar of more mainstream news sources. Conservative voices such as commentator Ben Shapiro, a YouTube media host, and Turning Point USA “are huge.… They have been working hard to reach people. It is mostly right-wing messaging that I'm receiving and a lot of my peers are as well.”

Administrations play a role

University administrations are taking a lead in fostering voter registration, lending support and oversight through entities including Stony Brook’s Center for Civic Justice and Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement.

Ashley Mercado, assistant director of the Stony Brook center, works with clubs across the political spectrum and sees a revival of participation after several pandemic years of solely online club activity.

“We’re seeing a livelier campus in general, across the board,“ she said. “Students feel more comfortable attending things in person, and we are definitely seeing students wanting to be more involved and having a say on what’s going on.” 

Yet she sees many young voters feeling “overwhelmed with the political process. A lot of students have difficulty differentiating what different officials do.”

That wouldn’t apply to Nicholas Costanzo, a freshman at Hofstra who interns for Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor. Costanzo, 18, of Bethpage, is a new member of the College Republicans, and while he sees a progressive edge in voter sentiments on campus, he thinks there are plenty of quiet Republicans who will “vote, vote, vote.”

Costanzo also observes that political intensity isn’t broadly distributed.

“What’s funny, the people that talk about the elections are those who are into politics, who understand politics,” he said. “The others don’t seem to care about politics. They care about their grades and what they are going to buy at the cafe.”

Latest videos