Amid national reports of an increase in college student voting, Salem State University’s mid-term election student voter rate in 2018 reached 47 percent, exceeding the 39 percent national average. In 2018, Salem State’s voter rate nearly doubled since the last mid-term cycle in 2014. These numbers were shared in a report released this month from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE).
The recent NSLVE numbers add to previous accolades the university has received for its student voting rate. In November of 2017, Salem State received a Silver Seal for Excellence in Student Voter Engagement by the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, based on its 65 percent voter engagement rate during the 2016 election. In 2019, Salem State was named to Washington Monthly’s “2019 Best Colleges for Student Voting.”
Cynthia Lynch, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Salem State University, said the strategy and impact of election programming fosters student civic engagement. Lynch said, “We not only want students to be voters, but to be informed on the issues and to feel empowered to influence their communities through voting and other forms of advocacy.”
Since 2016, the Center for Civic Engagement has held annual election programming called “Your Voice, Your Vote” that includes voter registration drives in partnership with MASSPIRG; political learning opportunities such as debate watches; candidate forums; panel discussions; and a large get out the vote effort. In 2018, the Enterprise Center on Salem State’s campus served as an early voting site which provided students with an additional opportunity to cast their ballots.
Bedford resident and Salem State senior Theresa Soldan was the 2018 state board chair for MASSPIRG and Salem State’s chapter chair. In her role, Soldan partnered with CCE in voter registration efforts, which included broadening the scope of voter events so that they may overlap with the areas of interest for a majority of students.
“This campaign was my personal prerogative as the student vote is something I see as extremely valuable and constantly overlooked,” Soldan said. “The most successful and entertaining event was the Voter Registration Fair, where we had political candidates from all sides host tables, we gave out food to passing students, called upon the university radio station to provide music, and last but not least, rented a mechanical bull to draw in passing students.”
Lynch said, “Helping today’s students become tomorrow’s leaders is central to Salem State’s mission. Engaging students in the political process allows students to raise their voices and understand the power of their vote.”
The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) is conducted by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. The study shows that nationwide, the voting rates at participating college campuses doubled on average compared to the previous 2014 midterm. In 2018, the Average Institutional Voting Rate (AIVR) among campuses in the study was 39.1 percent, nearly 20 percentage points higher than 2014’s average turnout rate of 19.7 percent. Turnout increases were widespread, with virtually all campuses seeing an increase over 2014.
This year’s NSLVE report is based on the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), conducted by IDHE, which is the only national study of college-student voting. It is based on the voting records of more than 10 million students at more than 1,000 colleges and universities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; IDHE does not receive any information that could individually identify students or how they voted.
The study provides reports to participating colleges and universities, like Salem State, which use them to support political learning and civic engagement, as well as to identify and address gaps in political and civic participation.