In recent years, it seems like there’s been a growing trend in New Jersey and across the nation: More and more people have been tuning out politics and ignoring the candidates running for office, or in office already.

This year however, with the COVID pandemic, civic engagement seems to be on the rise.

Dan Bowen, the chair of the political science department at the College of New Jersey, said the silver lining of the current health crisis could be the re-awakening of the voter.

“One thing that can be said about this current time that we’re all experiencing together is that it’s impossible to ignore the impact of government on our lives,” he said.

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Bowen noted many people have developed strong feelings about how the government has reacted to pandemic and the resulting economic problems, including the lack of an agreement in Washington on second stimulus package

“I do think that people are being motivated and interested and involved in politics right now because of this crisis," he said.

He said before the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis hit, a lot of people did not really seem to be aware of the direct relationship between elected officials, the decisions they make, and how that affects all of us.

“It’s maybe a little bit difficult to notice all of the ways government is impacting our lives,” he said. “But I don’t think we can ignore that right now.”

So far, more than 3.5 million mail-in ballots have been received at County Board of Election Offices across the Garden State. That's 90 percent of the 2016 turnout, even before a single polling place opens for Election Day.

Bowen added hopefully there will be a carry-over effect, so that when the pandemic is over, more people will continue to be engaged in the political process.

“There’s no denying the importance of government for our everyday lives, and we see that on the news, we listen to that on the radio, and we’re seeing it impact our schools, whether our kids can go back or not, and our jobs,” he said. “It is just impossible to ignore today how public affairs and public policy and government shapes important aspects of our lives.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.