On-Campus Voter Turnout Jumps in 2016

Manhattan College students voted at a total rate of 45 percent in the 2016 elections, a 10 percentage-point jump from the 2012 elections.

The figures were released to Manhattan College as part of the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE). The NSLVE is an endeavor of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University in Somerville, Mass.

The study was conducted among roughly 1,000 two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country. Institutions that send annual data to the National Student Clearinghouse were eligible to participate on a volunteer basis.

“What we do is we marry the enrollment records that any institution is already sending to the National Student Clearinghouse, and those get merged with the publicly available voter file. That information is then de-identified and shared with us,” IDHE Associate Director Ishara Casellas Connors said over the phone.

“We work really strongly with our partners at the National Student Clearinghouse to do that matching process and then we get de-identified data that enables us to produce the report that we share with campuses,” Connors said.

The study began earlier this summer, when all 50 states finalized and certified their 2016 election results.

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Manhattan College joined the study last fall, as part of the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, which was a nationwide venture to increase voter participation on campuses in 2016.

The decision to join the All In Challenge precipitated the formation of a committee on voter turnout, which included Associate Professor of Government Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., Director of Communications Peter McHugh, Assistant Director of Student Engagement Michael Steele, former student Emilia Dronkert, and current senior Ryan Quattromani.

The committee drafted a plan with four core goals: to increase Manhattan College’s voter registration rate to 70 percent, increase its voting rate to 40 percent, increase its voting rate among registered students to 70 percent and have 200 students attend debate watch parties.

The committee’s plan also included several ways to accomplish these goals. Some of the committee’s prescriptions included more voter registration drives (carried out by the Government & Politics Club), more events, and more engagement through social media and email announcements. Also listed in the plan was The Quadrangle’s “Manhattan Caucus” series, which chronicled student reaction to the events of the 2016 campaign on a weekly basis.

The results of the NSLVE report show that growth in participation among MC students has met and exceeded the committee’s initial goals.

In 2012, the report said, 65 percent of Manhattan College students were registered to vote. In 2016, that figure had risen to 73 percent.

The report assessed Manhattan College’s turnout rate among registered voters to be 62 percent in 2016 – up from 53 percent in 2012.

The report also highlighted differences in performance between certain majors.

Education and history majors had the highest 2016 turnout, according to the report, with 63 percent of all education majors and 57 percent of all history majors participating.

By contrast, the lowest turnout was among liberal arts, science and humanities majors, of whom just 30 percent voted.

The NSLVE report also highlighted that, for Manhattan College, work still remains.

Manhattan’s total voter participation rate – 45 percent of all students – still trails the national average of 50 percent.

Groarke believes there are several factors surrounding Manhattan’s below-average performance in the study,

“To the extent that we have a significant number of New Yorkers here, New York is among the worst states for turnout,” Groarke said.

Groarke credits New York State’s routinely low turnout figures to lack of competitive contests, the state’s tendency to remove voters from the rolls, and its lack of in-school outreach and early voting.

Groarke also believes Manhattan College’s lack of formal chapters of partisan clubs, such as College Democrats and College Republicans, plays a role.

But Manhattan College improved its standing from 2012 to 2016.

Last year’s five percentage-point deficit between Manhattan’s total turnout and the national average represents an improvement from 2012, when Manhattan College – still recovering from Hurricane Sandy – trailed by 12 percentage-points.

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Quattromani sees both the college’s direct efforts to increase turnout and the polarizing nature of the campaign between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton as important contributors the college’s improvement.

“I think it’s a blessing that we had this conversation and debate, and ultimately got everybody involved,” Quattromani said.

Groarke and Quattromani plan to keep the ball rolling into the future.

“I would like to see this be a continuing effort,” Groarke said. “I think small, well-chosen efforts have a big impact.”

The Government & Politics Club will be conducting more voter registration drives ahead of New York’s Oct. 13 deadline.

On Sept. 26, the college will host a debate about New York State’s upcoming constitutional convention vote.

The constitutional convention debate is precisely the of program kind that Connors believes most increases awareness and drives student turnout.

Connors argued that campuses should give students access to robust conversations centered around politics and policy, also emphasizing the role of faculty in the conversation.

“Students engage and connect with faculty on a daily basis and how they bring that political issues and policy issues to the classroom is a really important piece of that as well,” Connors said.

Quattromani – who worked with two Republican congressional candidates last year, and is now the chair of the New York City College Republicans – emphasized the importance of civic engagement and participation, especially on the part of students and young people.

“Civic engagement is obviously important because our government [… makes] decisions that impact us,” Quattromani said. “At the end of the day, we should be electing people, and holding them accountable, and lobbying for what we want.”

A copy of the NSLVE report on Manhattan College is available here.

CORRECTION (Sept. 20, 11:03 a.m.): A previous version of this article misidentified Peter McHugh as the director of marketing and communication.