Young people today are known for being socially progressive and dissatisfied with the current political situation. However, young people are, ironically, also known as the group of voters least likely to show up at the polls on election days. During the recent midterm elections though, young voters flocked to their precincts in higher numbers than usual according to exit polls.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University estimates that 31% of youth ages 18-29 turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. This constitutes a 10% increase compared to the 21% of eligible young voters who turned out during the 2014 midterms. The CIRCLE suggests that this is “the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter-century.”
Additionally, turnout was particularily high in states with high-stakes gubernatorial contests, such as Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin and, our own state, Ohio. Turnout hovered around 35% in these states.
The New York Times cites similar statistics, finding that precincts in Virginia, Texas, Florida and California near college campuses and composed of mostly young voters experienced significant increases in voter turnout.
As far as how young people voted, The CIRCLE found that 67% of youth voted for a Democratic House candidate compared to 32% who voted for a Republican House candidate. Republicans tend to dominate midterm elections historically because older voters are a steady conservative demographic group and more likely to turn out. NBC News analysts suspect that the increased youth vote contributed to the Democratic House takeover.
By extension, young people’s democratic leanings also contributed to the diverse palette of winning candidates during the 2018 midterms. Issues relating to the representation of minority groups, such as women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and different religious groups were hot topics on many young voters’ minds.
Although 31% may seen like a small number, the U.S. Election Project estimates that 48.8% of eligible voters in general turned out for the midterm elections. This number was only surpassed in 1966 when 49% of eligible voters turned out at the midterms. By comparison, the millennial turnout is not so insignificant.
A great deal of work exists to increase young voter turnout though. 31% remains a number that hovers beneath the halfway mark, which was surpassed by millenials and young voters in the 2016 presidential election, although the presidential election nearly always overshadows the midterms.
The Pew Research Center found that millenials and young people will surpass Baby Boomers as the largest share of the American electorate. If all eligible milleninals registered and turned out at the polls, the would reign as the largest block of voters. Young people could thus greatly impact future elections.
It is difficult to say that a “youth wave” occurred during the 2018 midterm elections. However, through constantly working to register young voters and reiterating the importance of voting, a future “youth wave” remains in the realm of possibility statistically.