Teen reporters speak with Tim Kaine, Corey Stewart and Millennial voters across Virginia

Voter turnout could be the defining factor in this year’s midterm elections. One group in particular, young voters, has the potential to affect the election results, if only they actually turned up on Election Day.

Less than one in five (15 percent of people under 25 in Virginia) cast their ballots in the 2014 midterm elections, according to the Federal Census Bureau. This year may be different, however, with Trump as president and a greater than ever divide on issues like immigration and gun control, both of which young people care deeply about.

A recent poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that upwards of 40 percent of young people under 30 plan to vote this year—doubling 2014’s numbers.

“Your voice and your vote are so incredibly important and you can, as one person, make so much change and difference,” said George Mason Democrats Communications Director Ashley Stewart.

In Virginia, our Student Reporting Lab from Dominion High School spoke to Senatorial candidates, Republican Corey Stewart and incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine about some of the hottest issues: immigration and gun control.

As the Central American migrant caravan continues forward, immigration has once again taken center stage in the news. Stewart, former Trump Virginia chairman, supports the president’s border wall.

“We need to remove criminal illegal aliens, those who are committing crimes, we need to focus in on that element,” Stewart told Student Reporting Labs correspondent, Morgan Fischer.

Kaine, on the hand, believes that young people are looking for reform, not border walls, telling Fischer, “[Young people] deeply believe in the equality of every person, that it shouldn’t matter what religion you practice, the accent you have, the shade of your skin.”

With Virginia as home to the National Rifle Association, guns continue to be a crucial issue for young people in regards to school safety. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many young people have been energized to advocate for stronger gun control legislation.

Kaine, who was Virginia’s governor during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, believes in instituting the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, to identify those prohibited from purchasing firearms.

Stewart believes in focusing more on school security, advocating for School Resource Officers and protecting the Second Amendment.

According to the Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy, Senator Kaine holds a 61-18 percent margin over Stewart for 18 to 34-year-olds.

At campaign stops for both candidates, young people expressed how they felt about issues most critical to them. George Mason Democrats spoke on a wide range of topics that encouraged them to support Kaine, including women’s rights, the environment and college affordability.

“One of the most important is women’s rights and access to health care for women. It’s super important that for me that women have control of their own bodies,” said Kara Kline, president of the George Mason Democrats.

At Stewart’s campaign stop in Sterling, Virginia, young people in attendance were sparse but clear in their support for the Republican candidate and his goals for office. Stewart focused his talk that night on immigration and the border, as well as eliminating affirmative action in regards to college admissions.

“I can’t go for someone who’s not pro-life, according to my beliefs,” said Maria Torres, a young Stewart supporter. “We need someone who will support our president.

Regardless of the outcome, young people are energized now more than ever to mobilize and let their voices be heard this election season. The big question remains however: will they head to the polls on November 6?

This story was written and produced by Morgan Fischer, Alison Pataky, and Karen Ramos at Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia. Instruction provided by Student Reporting Labs Connected Educator Mitch Schwartz. Mentorship provided by Kristy Choi, Briget Ganske and Rawan Elbaba at the PBS NewsHour.


NewsHour Extra Lessons:

Teen reporters interview Senate candidates about gun control and immigration