First-Time Voters In Iowa Process Unusual Presidential Election For many voters, 2016 seems like an unusual election compared to what they've seen in past years. For the youngest voters this year, it's the only one they've participated in.

First-Time Voters In Iowa Process Unusual Presidential Election

First-Time Voters In Iowa Process Unusual Presidential Election

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For many voters, 2016 seems like an unusual election compared to what they've seen in past years. For the youngest voters this year, it's the only one they've participated in.


Many longtime voters have remarked on how this year's presidential race is unlike those of recent memory. But what if this is your first election?

NPR's Don Gonyea spoke with people who'll be voting for the first time - college students in the battleground state of Iowa.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: As you know...

Some 250 students fill this big lecture hall at Iowa State University. The class is Intro to American Government.

I am looking for first-time voters.

That's me, after the professor kindly let us take over his class to talk about 2016.

So let me start with this. How do you feel about what you're seeing this election?


MATT VOLKER: (Clapping).

GONYEA: OK. Lots of groans there, some jeers. And one solitary person clapping very loudly. Let's start with him.

VOLKER: Well, you know, I think this election is definitely different. But there's a lot to be excited about, too, you know.

GONYEA: It's Matt Volker from Shenandoah, Iowa. He says the differences between candidates this year give people a real choice. He's voting Trump.

But that positive take is definitely an outlier. Among those groaning, Mason Wicket, who offers up a mild vulgarity.

MASON WICKET: Well, I feel like the election - I'm trying to pick the shiniest of two turds right now.


WICKET: I mean...

GONYEA: You do hear a lot of frustration from these new voters. That simply puts them in line with the rest of the population. But they finally get to cast a ballot.

And, well, here's Michelle Putze of Moville, Iowa.

MICHELLE PUTZE: I mean, it's not as much fun to come into an election - first-time voter - and, you know, not have anyone that I really identify with, not have someone I'm really excited to support.

GONYEA: Most of these students were just 10 or 11 years old when Barack Obama became the first African-American president. So they may take that historic moment for granted. In that same vein, in this classroom they aren't really dwelling on the fact that this year could see the first woman elected president.

Here's Taylor Rensink of Sioux Center.

TAYLOR RENSINK: Me as a woman, I think I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. Like, I think it's a milestone. But I wish it was a different woman.

GONYEA: Her big reason for picking Clinton is not history.

RENSINK: I'm a Republican. But I don't want Donald Trump (laughter).

GONYEA: These newest voters are processing the election in their own way. Forget about traditional media. The news they consume is on social media. Election updates come through, but they have to compete with everything else on their phone.

Sean Sailer is from Cedar Rapids.

SEAN SAILER: You can literally entrench your life in social media and refresh Twitter, then go out and refresh Instagram, and go out and refresh Snapchat, then go out and then go back to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Between school and social media, you can literally live your life like that and not do anything else.

GONYEA: Then there's your friends, who simply don't care about politics.

SAILER: The main problem is, like, if you try to talk in public or on social media about politics, you get shot down easily by anyone, really. No one wants to hear it. They've got other important things and...

GONYEA: All of this makes it a challenge for campaigns to reach young voters. And neither Clinton or Trump has connected with them in the way President Obama did, or Bernie Sanders.

Here's 18-year-old Alexis Holmes, who says she's having a hard time relating to her choices. First, the Republican nominee.

ALEXIS HOLMES: Trump is like a hell no.

GONYEA: And she doesn't see a third party as the answer, so...

HOLMES: Probably, sadly, going to be Hillary.

GONYEA: Polls tell us that these young voters are less likely to see themselves as Democrat or Republican. So third parties do see that as an opening. But the big question is actual turnout. The youngest segment of the electorate simply doesn't show up at the polls like their parents do. And don't look for 2016 to change that.

Alexis Holmes says there's a reason - too many wonder if it matters.

HOLMES: Are you even, like, seeing me? Are you seeing me as, like, when do my decisions start to matter? Like, at what age does my contribution, like, actually make a difference? And right now, it's usually the older people who have the power. So we're in that position where we're just, like, I don't want to do it.

GONYEA: And she offers one piece of unsolicited advice to the candidates seeking the votes of young people.

GONYEA: Tell us the truth. Like, take away all your stupid reputations, whether that's from a reality show, whether that's from, like, past presidential elections. Like, who are you today? Like, what do you stand for?

GONYEA: In other words - be authentic. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Ames, Iowa.

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