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Can young voters make a difference?

Two of the most well-known, outside-the-box contenders in the 2016 presidential race visited Buffalo recently with big hopes and large dependence on the younger generation’s vote.

Two Mondays, two parties, two voices, one hope: a win in the New York State primary, where 95 Republican delegates, and 247 Democratic delegates were up for grabs.

Buffalo quickly became a hot stop over the past several weeks for many contending presidential hopefuls: from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to former Secretary of State and Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the Republican hopefuls of businessman and entrepreneur Donald J. Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, all making a stop in the Queen City.

“I think it’s awesome that we got all these politicians coming to Buffalo, so I think we should go to all of them [rallies], whether it’s Hillary, Bernie, Trump, or whoever’s coming,” one local high school student said when asked why he attended the Trump rally.

Two of these candidates, however, held not only two of the larger political rallies, but are attracting large followings for their new tactics in the political atmosphere of the 2016 election. Both Republican Trump and Democrat Sanders share these two things: their opposition to Super PAC-fueled campaigns, shown through their decisions to find alternate routes of funding; and their appeal to the younger generation and struggling middle class.

Sanders visited Buffalo on April 11 for a stop at the Communications Workers of America post to speak with Verizon workers that would go on strike two days later. He then made his way to the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena to speak to more than 8,000 people.Students joined other area residents gathered outside despite rain and cold to form a line that wrapped around the outside of the arena. About an hour and a half prior to when Sanders was set to take stage, the stadium was already beginning to fill up. Many who came to see Sanders were unable to get inside and were left standing outside, resulting in Sanders also giving a speech outdoors while the opening speakers took the stage.

Trump’s April 18 rally was similar. It was held in the First Niagara Center, where more than 11,000 people came to see “The Donald” speak. A great amount of people also remained outside, but for different reasons. This group stood outside of the heavily policed rally to protest Trump, holding signs such as “No Racism, No Sexism, No Anti-Immigrant Attacks,” “Dump Trump” and “Land of the Free, Not land of the Fascists.” Police stood on guard with batons, zip ties and backup on horseback in case of any trouble.

Trump’s campaign has seen vigorous growth over the past several months, as his stances on topics such as immigration, health care, gun control and tax reform have gained popularity. His campaign also stands as the only one currently privately funded – by himself.

However, he has faced great opposition to his plans to build a wall along the Southern border with Mexico, enforce new tariffs and his views on gun rights within a country that saw 13,286 die by firearms in 2015. He also has been described as xenophobic, racist and sexist, especially following a string of negative comments about women and his debacle with Fox News’ political commentator Megyn Kelly in 2015.

“I really approve of his tax plan, I do not agree that education should be free, and he is not racist, he is not sexist, and I one hundred percent back him,” a young woman said outside of the rally.

On the opposite end of the table, Sanders’ campaign has seen a more progressive, yet influential growth. His motto of creating a “political revolution” has not only inspired many to follow his campaign, but also to contribute to it. Sanders’ campaign is currently the only completely crowdfunded campaign, where the average donation is $27.

Sanders, however, has faced opposition to his socialist views, rooted in the policies that have been instituted in Europe.

Both candidates have strongly directed their focus to not only the struggling middle class, but to the generation that will take on the upshot of an economy diminished by the Great Recession of the late 2000s. This generation of teens and young adults, known as “Generation Z” has been left a crisis of economic struggles, ranging from a national government with trillions of dollars in debt, to stagnating wages, unemployment and crippling college debt.

Sanders addressed several of the issues important to Generation Z at his rally, such as single-payer health care, free public education, the decriminalization of marijuana and a $15 minimum wage.

“No one thinks marijuana is a killer drug like heroin,” Sanders said.

Trump, however, proposed his changes to the American economy through taxes as a way to keep jobs on American soil and discourage overseas goods; and talked of his “great wall of Trump” that aims to prevent illegal immigration, which he hopes would damage the drug trade and give jobs back to Americans.

“ ‘You’re not going to build a wall.’ Really, why not? Tell me why we can’t!” Trump said in his rally, describing a time where someone challenged his plans for a wall.

Among the debates, the cheers and the vibrant political atmosphere at both rallies there was a similar background for many of the young people there: a feeling of civic duty.

If you spoke to any young person, at either rally, you’d find either one of two things: proud support for the candidate or civic responsibility.

Many young people were proud to say it was not the only rally they attended, and despite the huge issues this country will face in the years to come, they were excited to attend several rallies to get a good grasp on who’s name they’d fill in, not only in last week’s primary but in the national election in November.

In the 2012 election, only 45 percent of voters ages 18-29 turned out at the polls, but with 2016 many candidates will be looking for the youngest voters to make the greatest difference. There currently are 46 million people ages 18-29 eligible to vote, in contrast to 39 million seniors who are eligible. Young people have the ability to make a significant impact, not only in the presidential election but in the congressional election, as they make up 21 percent of the eligible voting population.

There has been a consistent decline among young voters since the 2008 election, but with the hopes of a new generation and with area young people boasting a strong sense of civic duty, we may just see a change in the trend in this year’s election.

Emyle Watkins is a senior at Springville-Griffith High School.