Parkland shooting survivors, and their supporters, will vote for the first time in the midterms

Parkland shooting survivors Tyra Hemans (left) and Emma Gonzalez.
Parkland shooting survivors Tyra Hemans (left) and Emma Gonzalez.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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For one group of Americans, the looming midterm election day is especially weighted: On Tuesday (Nov. 6), many survivors of February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, in Parkland, Florida, will vote for the first time, having reached adulthood this year.

The survivors who became student activists in the wake of the massacre will be watching for signs that their efforts to raise awareness about gun reform, push for stricter gun laws, and motivate young voters to participate have made a measurable difference.

Months of organizing

Parkland’s activist survivors have many times captured public attention in the past nine months, often moving audiences to tears while raising awareness about gun control in the US. They’ve spoken candidly about their pain from that February day, when a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 of their classmates and teachers. They’ve bared their scars for the camera, and bravely challenged politicians in debates and in impassioned speeches.

They’ve organized well-coordinated school walkouts and marches, and, importantly, have run several voter-registration events with college-age voters. Politically, they have been nothing short of a phenomenon.

As PBS reports, the Parkland students have been especially focused on reaching 4 million citizens turning 18 this year, asking them to show up and cast their votes for the midterms, which have not typically attracted young voters.

“This is truly the moment that young people are going to make the difference in this country,” senior Jaclyn Corin, a founder of the Parkland student activist group March for Our Lives, told PBS. Last week alone, she visited six cities over a few days, waking up to catch flights in the wee hours, when many young adults are stumbling home from clubs.

Young Americans appear to be listening, too. In interviews with students at the University of Central Florida, one told reporters that she voted early: “I’ve never voted in a primary election. I actually did it because of them,” she said.

Motivated by trauma

Broadly, recent polls indicate that Americans under age 30 are more likely to participate in Tuesday’s vote, compared to past midterm elections. A survey conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government found that 40% of US citizens in that demographic will “definitely vote in the midterms.”

By contrast, in 2014, only 26% of Americans in the same age group said they planned to vote.

The poll also suggests that a strong disapproval of Donald Trump is feeding this trend: 59% of respondents said they would definitely not support Trump if his name appeared on the ballot in 2020.

John Della Volpe, director for polling at the institute, speculated that (paywall) the string of mass shootings in the US have caused disillusionment with political leaders. (There have been more than 300 mass shootings in the US in 2018 alone.) “The good news is they’re more mobilized than they’ve been in many years,”  he said of the under-30 cohort. “The bad news is that they’re mobilized because of the trauma they’ve endured.”

Parkland students, together with other advocacy groups, have called for a national student walk-out on election day. They want students to leave their classrooms between 6am and 10am and make use of that time to vote.