On the evening of November 8th, Ole Miss sophomore Jarrius Adams got in his car to make the four-hour drive to his hometown to cast his vote for his presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. After a long year of campaigning for Clinton, Adams grew increasingly nervous and excited to see his hard work pay off. The anticipation grew as he drove back to Oxford, “I was on the way back, I just kept checking the updates. ‘He won this state, she won this state’. When I got back they had like ten states left to call- somewhere around there. And I was looking at the numbers and I was like this cannot be- this cannot be happening”.
Adams represents the population of millennials who sought political activism by personally involving themselves in the 2016 presidential election. According to a study conducted by CNN Politics, overall voting percentages fell lower in 2016 than they have in nearly 20 years, a remarkable 18.7 million fewer voted were received this year than in 2008. However, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) said that approximately 23.7 million young people (ages 18-29) voted in the 2016 presidential election; about 55% of eligible youth voters, 5% higher than percentage of young voters who turned out in 2012.
Despite the overall decline in voter turnout, millennial voters across the country made their voices known by taking a stand not only at the polls on Election Day, but also by getting personally involved on their candidates’ campaign teams.
“I think that’s why they asked us to go campaign for Trump,” said Jessie Schmitt, a freshman from Picayune, Mississippi, “They could’ve asked anybody else but they chose us because as millennials we’re probably some of the most influential when it comes to votes”.
Schmitt came to Ole Miss eager to find an outlet for his political interest. It wasn’t long before he found himself in College Republicans, volunteering to travel to Jacksonville, Florida to campaign for Donald Trump.
“I wanted to go because I wanted to make sure I did everything I possibly could to make sure Trump got elected,” he recalled. “I really want to make sure the Republican Party has good leadership in the future. I figured I might as well try to make it the best I can”.
Adams added, “Millennials just want to know why does it matter? Why should I get involved? And if you can give them a good concrete answer of how they will be affected then they will be motivated to get involved”.
Adams, a sophomore from Hattiesburg got involved with the Clinton campaign as an organizer for the Mississippi Coordinating Committee for the Democratic Party after spending his summer at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “When I left there I was just so inspired,” he said, “and I knew I had to do more to get Hillary in office”.
He recounted the strategies employed by the Clinton campaign in order to gain the attention and support of youth voters, a key group targeted early on by the campaign. Their tactics included star-studded televised rallies that appealed to the millennials emotions. “They used a lot of celebrities like Beyoncé, Big Sean, people that we know as millennials. I mean that wouldn’t have convinced my mom or my dad but that was a key factor in young voters,” he stated.
“I think she could’ve done better,” Adams added. “I think she could’ve done more to focus on first time voters. This election was too crazy. A lot of millennials were really confused”.
Greg Manz, Pennsylvania Communications Director for Donald Trump for President explained, “There was a massive enthusiasm gap with millennials”. He believed the majority of 18-29 year olds rejected Clinton despite her efforts to appeal to them. In his opinion, “Mr. Trump’s message of economic empowerment resonated because he offered change and specific plans to grow our economy and put America first”.
Hunter Foster, Chairman of the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans, and fellow millennial, saw the influence young activists had on the election. He was instrumental in organizing the grassroots effort to campaign for Trump in Florida, “The weekend before the general election, MFCR created its own Strike Force of 22 students to join the Alabama and Florida Federations to aid in GOP campaign activities in Duval County, Jacksonville, FL”.
The grass roots strike force knocked on a total of 12,000 doors in Duval County. “I don’t know if you noticed when the election map came up,” Schmitt began, “all of the key counties in Florida, except for Jacksonville went blue- I truly think that we might have played a real part in that. It helped Trump win the election”.
In reflecting on Clinton’s devastating loss Adams said, “I never felt like my hard work wasn’t worth it but I did think ‘maybe if I made one more phone call, or maybe if I would’ve knocked on one more door, or maybe if I wouldn’t have taken that lunch break then maybe the outcome would’ve been different’”.
One year ago neither Schmitt nor Adams had even seen the inside of a polling place however, when it comes to moving forward after this historic election, both students have vowed their time in the political ring is not over.
When asked if he was going to stay politically active, Schmitt responded with a resounding, “Absolutely”.
He looks expectantly toward his political future and is considering running for office in College Republicans as well as changing his major to reflect his newfound passion for politics, “I don’t want the Republican Party to fall apart,” he said.
Likewise, Adams is already planning his next steps, which include organizing young democrats across the state in order to regroup and move forward, “I told a lot of people after the election, everybody has their right to mourn and feel bad- I’m not saying there’s no right to do that because people are really hurt. I mean, I cried on three occasions November 8th,” he remembered.
“But for me, personally, the mourning time is over, it’s time to organize and time to get our party back. There’s a lot of things that need to take place and a lot of it needs to start with local elections”.
Click here to read Part 1 of Election Revolution!