The kind of frustration and anxiety that has spurred what is shaping up to be historic early voting turnout among young people in the U.S. was palpable among some Generation Z voters and millennials at a Tokyo university on Wednesday as they watched results come in for arguably the most significant presidential election in modern history.
Temple University, the largest and oldest foreign university in Japan, held a socially distanced live broadcast event on campus, attracting some curious students and faculty members.
Like in the U.S., young voters, who are said to be key in the election, cited issues such as police brutality, climate change and LGBTQ equality as most important to them, voicing their hopes that Donald Trump — the antithesis of everything they believe in — will bow out after four tumultuous years in office.
“My grandparents are immigrants. I have a lot of family outside the U.S. It’s really difficult to see how immigrants right now are being treated in America,” Gabrielle Gutierrez, 20, said. “Basically, any person of color is being harassed. And Trump is encouraging this harassment.”
Although her ballot went to challenger Joe Biden, Gutierrez, who is registered in California, said she was compromising on the Democratic presidential nominee — a sentiment echoed by many progressive millennials, who said the election is less about getting the 77-year-old chosen than about ousting Trump.
“He was not my first, second or third choice. But he was the nominee for my party so I sort of feel like I have to, just to get Trump out of office,” Bran Cowart, 30, said, voicing dissatisfaction with Biden’s stance on environmental issues, in particular his lack of support for the so-called Green New Deal.
But overriding his somewhat resigned attitude toward Biden is his fierce opposition to the Trump presidency.
“The way he talks about women, the way he talks about minorities, is just very unacceptable and not something that I think is appropriate for being the president,” said Cowart, who is from Florida.
Such passive support for Biden was voiced by Aidan Fletcher, 24, who said the presidential nominee and his running mate Kamala Harris would not be his choices for the president and vice president under normal circumstances.
“But I feel like we’re at a point where I can’t be picky in this election, because the other option is as bad as it is,” he said.
For Fletcher, who is registered to vote in Arizona, one of the key battleground states, this election was about making sure he wouldn’t make the same mistake he made four years ago when he, like many others belonging to Gen Z, was so convinced that a Trump presidency would not be possible that he did not bother to vote.
“I didn’t vote in 2016 because I didn’t think there was any way that Trump was going to get elected that time. And I was proven wrong,” Fletcher said.
The same goes for Arden Kreuzer, 26, who cast an absentee ballot for Biden this year. She didn’t vote four years ago because she “didn’t really care at that time.”
“When Trump was elected four years ago is when I started to realize it’s really important for me to actually try to learn about some politics. And really, I’m American, I should be participating in my country,” Kreuzer said, citing abortion rights as one of the issues that motivated her the most to cast her ballot.
Early voting turnout showed young people could heavily impact the outcome of the election.
According to statistics compiled by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), a nonpartisan research institute whose primary role it is to study youth civic engagement in the U.S., more than 7 million young people, age between 18 and 29, had voted early or absentee in the election as of Friday, including over 4 million in key battleground states.
“In every state we’re tracking, the number of absentee and early votes cast as of seven days before Election Day is far higher than at the same point in 2016,” CIRCLE said.
While the same enthusiasm was present in Japan, some young Americans here may have felt disconnected from the charged atmosphere gripping much of the mainland U.S. right now, thereby deciding not to vote.
Toshimasa Hatori, student government vice president at Temple, said his American friends in Japan were split over whether they would vote or not. While some believed in their voices being heard, others were “giving up on America’s leadership because they feel like either way — either Republicans or Democrats, either Trump or Biden wins — it will be the same thing.”
The fact that they live far away from the U.S. and are only able to access information on the election at a remove through news and the internet potentially adds to their political apathy, he said.
“There’s a limited amount of information and interest brought in from the mainland U.S. to this small, little, I would call ‘island’ of America,” Hatori said of his university. “In America, there’s a lot of interest. But here, it’s still Japan.”
For others, their decision not to vote may have had to do with their biracial backgrounds.
Some of 20-year-old Jessica DeMesa’s friends have a Japanese parent and an American parent.
“So they have two identities. And they don’t know which — they’re not extremely Japanese, but they’re not extremely American. And I think that’s why they won’t vote,” she said.
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