Single issue voters are a substantial constituency in politics. In every election, people may cast their vote solely based on how well a candidate represents their view on what matters most to them — be it the economy, the environment, women’s rights, health care, or education.
But what if these voters were to consider prioritizing another issue — one that had implications across partisan divides and policies?
Imagine if, before casting a vote, citizens asked themselves what the candidate commits to do for kids.
The truth is the issues that are the focus of national debate right now are by and large children’s issues: No one has more to gain or lose from decisions made in the hallways of Congress, the White House, and legislatures than our nation’s children.
The most potent example right now may be gun policy and reform. No issue more demonstrably impacts young people than the threat of gun violence in schools. As we saw tragically with yet another school shooting just last week in Texas, guns are the legislative issue where over and over again kids pay the ultimate price for our inaction.
The more heartening news is that an extraordinary youth-led protest movement has taken shape that inspired increased political participation and put an unprecedented focus in the coming election on candidates’ stances on gun control. In a CNN town hall in Florida shortly following the Parkland school shooting, Senator Marco Rubio faced questions from his constituents about whether he could distance himself from the gun lobby enough to enact common sense gun control; and they held him accountable for his previous voting record.
But other pivotal issues are discussed without much acknowledgement that it’s kids who have the most at stake. Take for instance, fiscal decisions: It is children who will be will be disproportionately harmed as a result of the growing national debt and deficit, reduced government revenues from the recently enacted tax policies, and the severe cuts to critical social programs. Just this month, the White House proposed a major reduction in funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program which has secured health coverage for more than 9 million children.
These budget decisions place children at greater risk than they have encountered in decades with regard to their health, food security, safety, clean air, and quality education. Unlike most programs for seniors or other constituents, many children’s programs are not protected in the federal budget because they are considered “discretionary.”
Right now, we are failing to ensure a prosperous future for our children. One summary indication that things are dramatically off track is our children’s reading proficiency. Reading by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. But 67% of students nationwide are not proficient readers by the end of third grade; the figure increases to 80% for students in low-income families.
It will take powerful actions by millions to stop and redirect this alarming course.
In our democracy, an election is the chief way we hold our representatives accountable.
Grandmothers and grandfathers, parents, teachers, nurses, paramedics, veterans, nurses, those new to the political process, and old hands will need to do more to ensure a promising future for our young people. Here’s what you can do to make children a major factor in the upcoming election:
Email, text, call, and visit the candidates in your district. Ask them what they will commit to do for children. How will they be held accountable for adequately funding education, health services and other supports all children need? How do they plan to bring children’s needs to the decision-making tables? How will they set an example for today’s young people to follow? Let them know you’ll be watching and holding them accountable for these commitments. (See our list of resources for more candidate questions and to learn about organizations working in states and nationally to educate candidates about children during this election cycle.)
We’d do well to recognize that a great many of the issues we fiercely debate and consider important will have the greatest consequences for a constituency that has little say in decision-making. But your vote in the primaries and the 2018 mid-term elections— and watching what newly elected leaders do for children — can make that different.
It is precisely because they cannot vote that our nation’s children most need you to. Bring them to the ballot box with you.