The 2020 presidential election is approaching at rapid speed and calls to mind the position of voters and a dilemma that has been plaguing our country for decades: the absence of young voters.

An article from Duke Today reported that in 2016, a mere 43 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds voted and only 16 percent voted in 2014. These numbers are concerning, which poses the question: Why is the voter turnout of young people so limited? Although there are innumerable contributing factors, both the misunderstanding of the government’s role and political polarization are greatly to blame. Relying on formal academic institutions for political understanding does not often suffice, which further proves the importance of self-education.

Both Founding Fathers Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson ardently believed that a literate and educated citizenry was necessary to the good functioning of democracy. Therefore, young people should invest time and improve their political comprehension instead of succumbing to resignation and accepting confusion because their votes shape the fate of the country. It is a massive issue for democracy if people don’t have a shared reality.

The annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey found that only 26 percent of Americans are able to correctly name all three branches of government and an astonishing 37 percent cannot name any of the rights secured under the First Amendment. Clearly, the issue presented lies with the lack of rudimentary knowledge about how our government actually functions. If voters fail to understand the basics, then it is reasonable that voting would all together be out of the question. The nature of politics must also include conversation and compromise, which has proven to be nearly impossible in contemporary times. President Donald Trump’s impeachment and the reactions during the 2020 State of the Union Address have been prime examples of the political polarization of Democrats and Republicans alike. However, this is not a new reality. In 2014, the Pew Research Center calculated that 27 percent of Democrats saw the Republican Party as a threat to the nation’s well-being and 36 percent of Republicans similarly saw the Democratic Party as equally as threatening to the nation’s security. As each party continues to demonize the other, political progress is halted and resentment and alienation only intensify.

As shown through news media outlets, political polarization is a major turn off for voters who would rather not become entangled in political complexities and mindless bickering. However, despite the political discrepancies we face, I encourage young people to take the initiative and vote because it is our responsibility to maintain our country’s founding principles of independence, equality, and freedom. Your future relies on your contribution and your individual opportunity to vote which should never be thrown to the wayside. Politics must become personal in order for it to be relevant in the lives of young people. The vote and those elected that it produces is how our nation functions and we have a moral duty to be a part of the political process because of what is at stake.