For months leading up to the pivotal 2018 midterm elections, the youth vote was brought up again and again: Especially after Parkland launched Generation Z's first social movement, would young people actually show up to the polls this year?
And now, we have our answer — a resounding yes. According to new exit poll analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), 31% of 18-to-29-year-olds voted in the midterms this year, representing a 10% increase from 2014. This is the highest youth participation in the last seven midterm elections, making turnout for voters under 30 the highest it's been since CIRCLE began doing its analysis of midterms youth voter turnout in 1994.
While a third of eligible voters may not sound like a lot, it is when you consider that turnout for midterm elections is historically lower across age groups and it's especially low for young people. In fact, only 21% of eligible 18-to-29-year-olds went to the polls during the last midterm election in 2014, according to CIRCLE data.
"Young people approached the 2018 midterms with a resolve to change the American political landscape through peer-to-peer action, and yesterday they demonstrated their power," says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, CIRCLE director. "These data estimates represent a huge increase in youth participation and are a testament to the efforts that a diverse group of youth organizers built and sustained in communities and on campuses across the country. This year we also saw new stakeholders, including more universities, the private sector, and even celebrities, strengthen and deepen their approach to youth outreach and non-partisan voter engagement efforts."
Young people approached the 2018 midterms with a resolve to change the American political landscape through peer-to-peer action, and yesterday they demonstrated their power.
This age group played a decisive role in flipping the House, where Democrats now have a majority. While other factors, like the so-called "suburban revolt," definitely helped, young people heavily favored Democrats with 67% voting for a House Democratic candidate compared to just 32% for a House Republican candidate, according to CIRCLE.
This is a historically high Democratic showing among this group: People under 30 were about evenly split until 2002, when they started veering more and more Blue with every election. "Young people asserted their political voice by making a decisive choice in House races," Kawashima-Ginsberg says.
Young people also undoubtedly helped candidates running on gun reform and affordable healthcare, like Lucy McBath in Georgia's 6th District, flip districts that had been red for decades. The youth vote likely helped shape many statewide races, too: Democrats now control the House, Senate, and governor's seat in six additional states. Plus, seven state legislative chambers flipped from Republican- to Democrat-controlled, and Democrats took back 333 state legislature seats out of the roughly 1,000 lost during Obama's presidency.
In Georgia's controversy-filled gubernatorial race, 63% of young people preferred Stacey Abrams while 36% voted for Republican Brian Kemp. The race has been called for Kemp, but Abrams hasn't conceded as her campaign said there are still votes to be counted.
Organizing Made A Difference
Countless nonprofits have popped up all over the country in an effort to get young people to the polls, and CIRCLE says they're responsible for the record turnout. "This kind of turnout is only possible with the longtime investment of many, many groups in young people," says Kawashima-Ginsberg. Active involvement in a movement like March for Our Lives made young people more likely to vote, she adds.
Sarah Audelo, the executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, says her organization supports countless local youth movements, especially those working with young people of color, spending $1 million on these organizations this year alone. Some of the tools these groups use include social media, texting, town halls, campus pop-ups, and, well, clever swag. The March for Our Lives activists, as just one example, wore shirts with QR codes on them. Once you scanned the code, it took you to voter registration info on their website.
In Wisconsin, the 10-month-old group Leaders Igniting Transformation knocked on 30,000 doors and sent 50,000 texts, contributing to a 35% turnout among young people, which helped boot anti-choice, anti-union Gov. Scott Walker in favor of Democrat Tony Evers. In Texas, there was an estimated 500% increase in early voting among youth thanks to groups like MOVE Texas.
"Young people, particularly young people of color, flexed their political muscles this election," Audelo tells Refinery29. Young people are unquestionably more engaged this year, and have already successfully helped lobby politicians to adapt nearly 50 new gun-reform laws, which represents a big rise in state legislation on the issue. The inevitable question is whether this enthusiasm will last.
Overall, the turnout suggests a good portion of young people are angry with the way things are going. Now, it's time to beat complacency, get more people involved, and keep up the pressure on newly elected officials to actually deliver change.
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