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The electoral impact of campus COVID-19 shutdowns

Charles Fain Lehman and Chrissy Clark report for the Washington Free Beacon on the potential electoral impact of college campuses shutting their doors to students this fall.

College campuses that once reliably boosted Democratic candidates in key swing states have seen voter registration rates plunge amid coronavirus shutdowns, public data show.

Universities across the country have embraced online-only classes or “hybrid” learning models in response to the pandemic. Those restrictions, a Washington Free Beacon review of voter registration data found, have likely dealt a blow to Democrats in some of the most competitive election races in the country. New voter registrations in the vicinity of seven major public universities in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina have plummeted compared with 2016.

The locked-down college campus, in other words, could help determine the 2020 election, as thousands of students either vote from their home states or do not register at all. That could be a setback for Democratic contender Joe Biden, and for Democrats down-ballot, given the party’s overwhelming popularity with America’s most liberal and least politically engaged age group.

Official data show that voter registrations have plummeted across seven large public universities that boast a cumulative population of more than 270,000 voting-age students in four swing states. In 2016, the fall leading up to the November election was a key time for voter sign-ups, with the seven colleges averaging 100 to 200 new registrations every week following the resumption of fall classes. One, the University of Wisconsin Madison, saw more than 1,700 new registrations in the first week of October alone.

What was once a river has become a trickle with average weekly registrations dropping below 40 on campuses. In the weeks since the start of the semester, cumulative registrations fell 94 percent at Ohio University and 93 percent at Michigan State University.

Voter enthusiasm was high at many of the same schools prior to pandemic shutdowns.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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