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Political parties and the young Wyoming voter

A woman is standing in the middle holding a microphone. Surrounding her are people listening sitting in desks.
Jordan Uplinger
Wyoming Public Media

Emma Jones is speaking in the Family Room at the University of Wyoming to a room full of students. Jones is the co-founder of College Dems, a new political group on campus.

“It's really important to have, especially young people, like college students, engaged in their political processes, especially at the local level,” Jones said to the room.

This Family Room is the same place that a much more conservative group, Turning Point USA, hosted the Wyoming Freedom Caucus a few months ago. At the right-wing event, they were talking about issues close to the hearts of conservatives, like reining in state spending, protecting private property owners from federal encroachment, advocating for former Pres. Donald Trump’s reelection and supporting parental control in education.

Today, the college Democrats have their own policy goals centered around keeping Trump out of office. UW student and Albany County Democrats Committeewoman Artemis Langford explains some of the College Dem’s beliefs.

We believe that everyone should have a right to health care, everyone deserves to have control over their own body,” said Langford. “We believe that climate change is not only real, but it's having a considerable impact on our planet.”

The hope is that these are issues that could turn out the Wyoming youth vote. College Dem’s Emma Jones already sees engagement from young people on similar issues.

Young people have been engaging in politics more and more. I think that people recognize now more than ever that their vote matters, and that’s not just national politics, but local politics.” said Jones.

Research has shown elections to be increasingly focused on the presidential race, leaving down-ballot candidates to adopt standard party policy. That leaves state lawmakers in a unique position to listen and respond directly to young voters. Take Karlee Provenza, a Democratic representative in Laramie. She has a voluntary advisor focused on keeping up with social media trends and young voters’ issues of interest.

I don't know any other members that have a youth mentor, but I do. So making sure that I'm also keeping in line with what young people want.” said Provenza.

Then there’s Daniel Singh, a Republican representative from Cheyenne. Even though he’s across the aisle from Provenza, he also cares deeply about the opinions of Wyoming youth.

I'm the second youngest member of the legislature in the state of Wyoming. I'm also a member of Run Gen Z, which is a group of state legislators from across the country who are in Generation Z and are conservatives,” said Singh.

Both Provenza and Singh are young members in their state parties. They don’t agree on much. But like younger voters everywhere, Provenza and Singh also don’t see eye-to-eye with their traditional party platforms either. Singh says it’s a shift on both sides.

“There is that shift on the national Democrat side, right?” said Singh. “They're more traditional Democrats, and younger people tend to be more progressive. And then on the other side, they're more traditional conservatives, right? The old guard. And the younger conservatives tend to be more libertarian, I would say.”

Singh admits that some of his conservative views differ greatly from older members in his party, for instance, his opinions on how the right talks about cannabis usage.

Provenza also tries to focus on policy over party. She’s under no illusion of a youth led blue wave hitting Wyoming. In fact, she concedes that most students and young people in Wyoming are generally conservative in their politics.

But I also know that the younger generation is ready for something different. Whether it's conservative or progressive, they're ready for something different,” said Provenza.

Recently, young activists amassed at least 50 people outside the state capital in Cheyenne to protest continued U.S. weapon sales to Israel. Youth activists are making their voices heard.

However “the youth” are not a unified and organized political party. The difference between those voters – and between Provenza and Singh – can be heard in the political appeal they make to young people.

When political parties try to pitch things to young people, they talk down to young people,” said Singh. “But the issues that we're dealing with today … How involved should the government be in your life? Should the government be able to take money from you? Do you have sovereignty over your property?”

By contrast, here’s Provenza’s pitch to Democratic youth voters: We talked about childcare. We talked about pre K, we talked about reproductive health care choices. Those are things that young people need, when they think about are they going to have a family? And how are they going to even raise a family if we don’t have any policies in place that support them in doing so,” said Provenza.

While Provenza and Singh have very different policy priorities, their method to achieve them is surprisingly similar. Get more young people on board with your party, and get them voting. Singh wants young people to stay in Wyoming and commit to an agenda.

Join your party, become a precinct person. And from there, you build the relationships within your community to actually have those conversations with people that you know, in order to further whatever goal that it is you have for your community,”he said.

It might not be much in the way of bipartisanship, but for young voters the message is clear: The parties can’t grow or change without you.

Corrected: April 9, 2024 at 12:03 PM MDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Rep. Provenza's Youth Mentor as a "position on her staff". Members of the legislator do not have staff, and Rep. Provenza's Youth Mentor is a voluntary advisor. The story has been updated to correctly reflect this.
Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.
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