What motivates young voters? A mixture of fear & hope.
As the results continue to be projected, early data shows that young Americans turned out and helped deliver key wins for Democrats in the 2022 midterms
It’s been a busy and eventful election week. As the results continue to be projected, early data shows that young Americans turned out and helped deliver key wins for Democrats (more on that below ⬇️).
An estimated 27% of young Americans ages 18-29 voted in the 2022 midterm elections, according to early analysis from the The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts (CIRCLE). If the estimate holds, that would be the second-highest midterm youth voter turnout rate in ~3 decades, just behind the 31% of youth who turned out in 2018.
While that estimate is lower than the historic youth voter turnout we saw in 2018, CIRCLE’s data demonstrates a recent trend of increased youth electoral and civic participation, including this cycle.
With the Georgia Senate runoff and looming prospects of 2024 on the horizon, The Up and Up will continue to report on the political prowess of Gen Z, from voters, to organizers, to…. members of Congress.
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Young Americans feel they can’t complain unless they vote
Last night, nine young Americans sat down via Zoom for a focus group with Harvard Kennedy School pollster and the author of 'FIGHT: How Gen Z is Channeling their Fear and Passion to Save America' John Della Volpe. John is also the founder of SocialSphere, a public opinion research and consulting firm.
As a fly on the wall, I witnessed the diverse group of nine 18-24-year-olds open up to John, discussing everything from their personal battles with mental health challenges to first hand experiences with gun violence. The focus group members were chosen at random and hailed from six states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado.
The raw and honest conversation provided clear insight into the minds of these Gen Zers just two days after the 2022 midterm elections: they’re jaded about the state of American politics and our country writ large but feel that they can’t complain unless they vote. While they live in fear of gun violence, are frustrated by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and angered by police violence, they are hopeful that by voting they can start to make a change.
Here are a few noteworthy numbers:
6 of the 9 said they have political opinions that differ from their parents
7 of the 9 said they fear gun violence
At least 3 of the 9 identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community
6 of the 9 struggle with mental health challenges or have close friends or family who do
Everyone in the group voted – though for a number of different reasons.
Of the young women on the call, most stressed concern over their own reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Some mentioned specific ballot initiatives they voted for, such as a question over psychedelics in Colorado, marijuana in Wisconsin, and a minimum wage increase in Nevada. Many described feeling as though it was their “civic duty.”
“Not voting when it’s so easy to turn in my ballot feels disrespectful in a way… people have fought for these rights,” said a young man from Eastern Oregon.
“I personally feel like voting is the basic civic duty of any contributing member of society…. Even if I didn’t have personal stakes in this current voting climate, I would have done it anyway,” said a young woman from Minnesota. She added that she “grew up around people who would complain about the circumstances without taking the actions they could take to improve it.”
“To ensure all women have free choice of their bodies as they should,” said a young woman from Reno, Nevada.
A young man from Wisconsin said he voted because there are “so many people in my life affected and who could be affected by decisions made,” adding that there are “even more people affected who I don’t know who could be affected.”
Even if they disapproved of the world around them, there was a sense from the young people on the call that they weren’t going to sit back and let bad things happen to them.
A young man from California described participating in a walk out while he was in high school to protest school shootings. The young woman from Reno, Nevada described protesting after the murder of George Floyd.
Asked by John to describe their first political memory, many noted the day the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Others said the election of former President Barack Obama.
Of the many questions John asked, the answers to one in particular – “What kind of America do you hope for?” – struck a chord.
Overwhelmingly, the Gen Zers said they would like to see a more united country.
For his part, a young man from Eastern Oregon said he wants to see an America that’s “civil and kind and recognize[s] the fact that very few people aim to be evil.”
All of this, paired with young people’s expression of their values at the polls this week, shows that while, yes, young Americans do for sure lean to the left (and backed Democrats by stark margins this cycle), they are voting for candidates who prioritize specific issues and policies that will directly impact their lives: reproductive rights, gun violence prevention, increasing the minimum wage, making college more affordable, and voting rights.
Young people don’t want anything to do with the back and forth of partisan vitriol and just want to live a good and prosperous life. In turn, driven by a mixture of both fear and hope, they voted for Democrats this cycle.
‘It’s never been just about Trump for us’
In my latest for Teen Vogue I wrote about how, according to CIRCLE’s estimates, youth voter turnout in the 2022 midterms delivered key wins for Democrats.
Here are a few key quotes from organizers who worked day and night to turn out young voters this cycle:
“It’s never been just about Trump for us. It’s about stopping the climate crisis, protecting our reproductive freedoms, and ending gun violence in our classrooms,” said Sunrise Movement’s Ellen Sciales, who spent 10 days before the election organizing young voters in Wisconsin.
“I personally have seen the issues of rights — whether they are voting rights, reproductive rights, speech rights, etc. — and health care and education costs as the most important to young voters like myself,” said Peter Matarweh, a 21-year-old organizer with Un-PAC, a nonpartisan, youth-led group focused on voting rights, at the University of Michigan.
“Young voters are obviously now the bedrock of the Democratic Party and the only people who can consistently be counted on by Democrats. That's something that was not accepted 10 to 15 years ago when I started doing this stuff, and now it's got to be blatantly obvious to the Democratic Party,” said longtime youth-vote evangelist and the former executive director of NextGen America, Ben Wessel.
‘We have more than earned our seat at the decision-making table’: After turning out, young Americans are asking for more responsibility
President Joe Biden and the White House this week recognized the role young voters played in helping deliver critical wins for Democrats.
“I especially want to thank the young people of this nation,” Biden said during a press conference on Wednesday. “They voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and the student debt relief.”
Now, young Americans are asking for something in return.
The YouthInGov coalition, a group of over 100 youth-led and youth-serving organizations, is “calling for increased representation of Young Americans across the federal government,” the coalition said in a press release Friday.
YouthInGov was started after the 2020 election to help boost youth participation in the federal government. Over the past two years, the group has made headway. They’ve met with members of the Biden-Harris administration as well as Congress to discuss the inclusion of young people in the federal government, and have worked closely with the Future Forum Congressional Caucus (the Congressional caucus devoted to issues important to young Americans) to “secure language in the House-passed FY23 appropriations report to support the creation of an Office of Young Americans and conducting a federal youth inclusion assessment,” the group says.
But now, they’re asking for their proposal to be fully realized. It includes:
The creation of an ‘Office of Young Americans’ within the Executive Office of the President
Devoting a White House staffer within the Presidential Personnel Office to hiring young Americans
Building an ‘Advisory Council of Young Americans’ to engage with youth-focused and youth-led organizations
“We have more than earned our seat at the decision-making table. While we have been pleased by the productive conversations we have had so far with the Administration and are thankful for our allies in Congress, there is also a sense of urgency. The time is NOW to make concrete and substantial changes to ensure Young Americans are not only looked to as stakeholders but viewed as partners in policymaking and governing. The youth movement is unified behind this proposal and we are eager to continue to work with Congressional and Administration allies,” said Eve Levenson, YouthInGov Co-Founder and Lead Organizer.
Youth vote in the news 🗞 (which there was plenty of this week❗️❗️)
Did young voters really save Democrats?, Marin Cogan for Vox
Some Republicans Want to Raise Voting Age After Gen Z Midterm Turnout, Kelly Weill for The Daily Beast
Turnout among young voters was the second highest for a midterm in past 30 years, Ashley Lopez for NPR
Young voters boost Dems in midterms, MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Stephanie Ruhle