The other wave: A 10-point jump in turnout among young peo­ple

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY KEI KAWASHIMA-GINS­BERG Tufts Univer­sity

Voter turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds in the 2018 midterm elec­tions was 31 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mate by The Cen­ter for In­for­ma­tion and Re­search on Civic Learn­ing and En­gage­ment at Tufts Univer­sity.

That’s the high­est youth turnout my col­leagues and I have ob­served since we started col­lect­ing data in 1994. It’s also a ma­jor in­crease from turnout in the 2014 midterms, which was 21 per­cent.

About 67 per­cent of young peo­ple sup­ported Demo­cratic House can­di­dates, com­pared to just 32 per­cent for Repub­li­can can­di­dates. This 35-point gap is even larger than their pref­er­ence to­ward Democrats in 2008, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was first elected.

This pref­er­ence no doubt helped some Demo­cratic can­di­dates in states such as Wis­con­sin, Mon­tana and Ne­vada. For ex­am­ple, Se­na­tor Jon Tester of Mon­tana won his re-elec­tion by less than 16,000 votes. Young Mon­tanans, by fa­vor­ing him by 67 per­cent to 28 per­cent, gave him a rel­a­tive vote ad­van­tage of over 25,000 votes.

In many ways, this elec­tion cy­cle showed how dif­fer­ent groups can cre­ate di­verse paths to po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment. It shows in the num­bers, and more im­por­tant, in young peo­ple’s faces. Young peo­ple should be feel­ing pow­er­ful and hope­ful that they can, in fact, ex­er­cise their votes to af­fect Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

Go­ing back 40 years, young vot­ers have a rep­u­ta­tion of not show­ing up to the polls, es­pe­cially in midterm elec­tions. So how do we ex­plain this year’s en­thu­si­asm?

This fall, my col­leagues and I con­ducted two large-scale na­tional sur­veys of 2,087 Amer­i­cans ages 18 to 24 to doc­u­ment and un­der­stand what Gen Z’s are think­ing, feel­ing and do­ing when it comes to pol­i­tics. Here’s what we found.

The pro­por­tion of young peo­ple who joined protests and marches tripled since the fall of 2016, from 5 per­cent to 15 per­cent. Par­tic­i­pa­tion was es­pe­cially high among young peo­ple who are reg­is­tered as Democrats.

We also found that young peo­ple were pay­ing at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics more than they had in 2016. In 2016, about 26 per­cent of young peo­ple said they were pay­ing at least some at­ten­tion to the Novem­ber elec­tions. This fall, the pro­por­tion of youth who re­ported that they were pay­ing at­ten­tion to the midterm races rose to 46 per­cent.

To learn more about what might was mo­ti­vat­ing Gen­er­a­tion Z to vote, we asked sur­vey par­tic­i­pants to rate their level of agree­ment with three state­ments.

“I worry that older

● gen­er­a­tions haven’t thought about young peo­ple’s fu­ture.”

“I’m more cyn­i­cal

● about pol­i­tics than I was 2 years ago.”

“The out­comes of the ●

2018 elec­tions will make a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact to ev­ery­day is­sues in­volv­ing the govern­ment in my com­mu­nity, such as schools and po­lice.”

Among young peo­ple who said “yes” to all three of those ques­tions, more than half – 52 per­cent – said they were ex­tremely likely to vote. Among young peo­ple who said “no” to all three of those ques­tions, only 22 per­cent were ex­tremely likely to vote.

This year’s vot­ing surge by young peo­ple did not hap­pen overnight. Nor was it driven by a sin­gle is­sue like gun vi­o­lence, though Park­land no doubt played a very im­por­tant role by ac­ti­vat­ing many young peo­ple and voter en­gage­ment groups.

Our re­search shows that Gen Z is aware of the chal­lenges ahead and they are hope­ful and ac­tively in­volv­ing them­selves and friends in pol­i­tics. Young peo­ple have got­ten in­volved and felt ready to make a change in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics – and so they did.


Kei Kawashima-Gins­berg is the di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for In­for­ma­tion and Re­search on Civic Learn­ing and En­gage­ment at Tufts Univer­sity.

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