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A youth vote forecast as Americans start to cast their ballots 🗳
As the first early voting numbers trickle in, I checked in with Tom Bonier, a veteran Democratic strategist and the CEO of TargetSmart.
All fall, Bonier's been keeping tabs on youth voter registration numbers and pointing out that the youth voter registration rate is surging.
Today for instance, he tweeted this chart:
But he's not just pointing to the high numbers of new youth voter registrants as some obsolete fact.
In a recent conversation with Bonier, he predicted the number of young voters who registered this year indicates that there will be high youth voter turnout in the midterms.
Now, this isn't because there are enough new youth voter registrants to swing hotly contested elections (there aren't), he said, but because the high number of youth voter registrations signals the political energy from young Americans overall.
Bonier's forecast is backed up by what he saw in 2018. Four years ago, youth voter registration surged, especially post-Parkland, and younger voters, including those who had voted for the first time in 2016, turned out in high numbers in the 2018 midterm elections.
"What happened was, yes, you had a lot of first time young voters come out in the 2018 midterms, but a bigger and more impactful part of the electorate was the younger voters who had come out maybe in 2016 and generally wouldn't vote in a midterm election. Younger voters overall had a much higher turnout rate in 2018 than they did in the 2014 midterms," Bonier said.
"So I think that's potentially the most impactful dynamic of this, and the reason why the surges in voter registration that we're seeing are important and relevant and suggest that the electoral landscape may be much more important than we've been led to believe by some of the polling."
So what's up?
Looking at the 2022 voter registration data so far in comparison to 2018, Bonier's theory is that just as the tragic mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida motivated young Americans in 2018, the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could catalyze young voters in 2022 -- including the many young Americans who voted for the first time in 2020.
"Prior to the Dobbs decision, every indicator was that younger voters were not especially engaged this election. They were giving President Biden very low approval ratings. When you looked at any polling, the various gauges of intensity in terms of 'How closely are you following this election?' 'How likely are you to vote?' even looking at the voter registration rate, young voters were just not very engaged in this election," Bonier said of the youth vote state of play prior to the Supreme Court's decision to gut Roe v. Wade.
"Since Dobbs you've seen all of those indicators turn around. Now younger voters are giving President Biden actually quite high approval ratings... they're registering at a higher rate, and when you look at these voter intensity questions in polls, younger voters are now much more likely to say that they're intending to vote in this election," he said about today's landscape.
"When you see all of these different indicators pointing in the same general direction, again, it almost always results in a turnout surge among that group. So that's why I am anticipating that happening and seeing a lot of these young voters who came out in 2020 coming back out in this election."
Eyes open 👀
Asked where specifically we should be paying attention to high youth voter registration rates as a predictor for potential high youth voter turnout, Bonier said to keep eyes on: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan -- all states where his analysis shows younger voters are accounting for a much larger share of new voter registrants since the Dobbs decision.
But early vote data may not look so good for young voters
Bonier also shared a warning about early vote numbers. He anticipates that young people won't necessarily vote early in high numbers -- but that doesn't mean they won't vote at all.
"The early vote will only be somewhat indicative of the youth vote just because I think younger voters are going to be less likely to be voting by mail or voting early than older voters who tend to prefer that method," he predicted.
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