Mike Olliver/UCS

Dear Students of STEM, I Challenge You to Vote!

, Research scientist | September 24, 2019, 9:13 am EDT
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Fifteen years ago, I voted for the first time in the presidential election of 2004. I remember the energy on campuses to get registered to vote and to exercise that right. Rock the Vote even did an event on my campus that brought together students with different political views and provided information about registration and how to vote. And apparently during that year, parties across the aisle contacted students on campus at a higher rate than they had done historically, which researchers have shown ushers students to the polls.

So, did students vote more in 2004 than in prior years? Yes, they did; however, when voter turnout data was analyzed across student identified majors, social scientists found students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) had the lowest turnout rates. This was also the case in 2012, 2016, and 2018 elections.

Why do STEM students continue to vote at low rates?

The short answer is that we’re not certain. The current best hypothesis is that STEM students are less interested in politics relative to phenomena occurring in the natural world. As a scientist, I find this hypothesis to be somewhat degrading to my field as I feel that we are robust individuals who are curious about any and all things, especially politics. Does anyone remember the first march for science that drove millions of scientists to the streets across the world to stand up for science in government decisions?

Differences between gender, age, race, and ethnicity might explain why STEM majors aren’t being drawn to the polls. For example, STEM majors still tend to be younger and male relative to those who major in health professions or the humanities. This is important because voter turnout is lower both for men and younger people. When researchers controlled for both age and gender in a model used to predict voter turnout, they found that the predicted probability of voting increased for STEM students. This study also found similar results when accounting for race and ethnicity. So, what does this all mean? Individuals characteristics may explain why some majors’ voter turnout is higher than others.

STEM voter turnout is incredibly important!

Beyond explaining why STEM majors may not be turning out to the polls, it’s incredibly important that these students vote. There are so many critical decisions made daily that depend on science. And when science loses its voice in those decisions, our environment and the health and safety of our public suffers.

Climate scientists are now saying we have 11 years to act on climate change before our planet warms to a point where we will see irreversible consequences. We currently have an administration that has ignored science in nearly every decision putting us more at risk of getting food-borne illnesses, breathing in polluted air, and making it more likely that endangered species don’t have chance at survival. Scientists also are being censored, coerced to manipulate results or else be fired, and are not receiving competitive grant funds if their grant proposals contain politically contentious terms. Unfortunately, this is what our world looks like when science is left behind.

My challenge to STEM students

I wish that I had the resources  to run my own “vote for science” events at your campuses across the nation. If I did, I assure you that there would be some cool science fair events, robotics, ice cream, and I’d obviously work in Beyoncé somehow. But this is a dream on my end and voting isn’t a dream, it’s a reality and important. Given this importance, I have a challenge for STEM students to get out and vote in 2020 elections.

STEM student voter turnout was at 46.4% in the 2016 election. I challenge you all to increase that number and close the gap between your colleagues in other disciplines. Create a measurable difference in the next election – let’s measure the vote! Researchers are already doing that as I’ve pointed out, but just note that there are scientists who are measuring your turnout at the polls.

The first step to meeting this challenge head-on is to register to vote – and its National Voter Registration day today! Next step is to “fill in the blank” in the sign that I’m holding in picture at the top of this blog. Tell me why you, as a STEM student, vote for science and use #MeasureTheVote or tweet @UCSJacob to let me know. And the last step is to show up to the polls on election day, or send in your absentee ballot, and vote for science!

If you are unclear on how to register, how to check the status of your registration, or how to help others to get registered and vote, you should check out this resource from Science Rising that provides guidance on all of this stuff – it’s great!

Mike Olliver/UCS

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