"The 2018 midterm elections demonstrated the opportunity for young voters to fundamentally expand and reshape the electorate to be more diverse and progressive, as well as their ability to dramatically change the values of elected bodies. Despite voter suppression in multiple states, the youth vote surged in the 2018 midterms, giving candidates with progressive platforms a huge advantage. After Tuesday’s results, the path to victory for all candidates is clear: invest in young people and talk about the issues impacting young Americans.
Surging Youth Turnout Benefiting Democrats
Tuesday’s midterms marked a surge in young voter turnout. Initial analyses by the CIRCLE Data Project at Tufts University indicate that youth turnout in 2018 reached a high of 31 percent for young voters ages 18-29. This is an increase of 10 percent from 2014 youth turnout, and the highest level of youth turnout in 25 years. This marks a dramatic shift towards a new American electorate that is younger, more diverse, and more progressive. In some majority youth precincts tracked by NextGen America, the increase in youth turnout was even higher. Youth turnout during early vote periods also surged. Wisconsin saw a 809 percent increase in early vote compared to 2014 levels, Georgia saw an increase of 371 percent, and in Nevada youth early vote increased by 411 percent.
Young people not only voted in historically high numbers, but the youth vote moved significantly to the left. On average, young voters this year supported Democrats by a massive 35 points over Republicans. This margin was even more dramatic in some critical races. In Montana, for example, incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester won voters younger than 30 by a 43-point margin over Republican Matt Rosendale. In Texas, 71 percent of young people voted for Beto O’Rourke, compared to just 29 percent for Senator Ted Cruz, playing a major role in in creating the competitive nature of this election. In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers defeated incumbent Governor Scott Walker by a razor thin margin after a massive youth voter increase of more than 800 percent during early voting. Young voters clearly broke in favor of Democrats, with no signs that this trend will reverse in future elections. To reclaim some of this voting share, Republicans will need to turn their focus to policies that engage and center young people.
Youth Turnout Increased Despite Voter Suppression
This surge in turnout is especially impressive given the disproportionate impact voter suppression has on young people, who are more likely to be renters, in school, and generally more transient than older voters. This makes barriers like early registration deadlines, voter ID requirements, and cumbersome absentee ballot processes especially difficult for young voters to navigate. Additionally, in recent years, many Republican state legislatures and governors have actively suppressed the vote in ways that most impact youth. There are countless examples of this: Ohio’s practice of purging inactive voters if they miss one election, a process upheld by the Supreme Court; Florida’s attempt to close campus voting locations, an effort reversed by a judge, but still confusing to voters; and in North Carolina the shortening of early vote hours and the closure of campus early vote locations by the Republican-controlled Board of Elections. During the last weekend of early vote North Carolina students had to be in line for hours to vote early. And finally, after the polls closed Tuesday, reports of broken machines, long lines and ballot issues poured in from multiple states. Given this level of barriers and voter suppression, the increase in youth turnout this year demonstrates not only excitement on behalf of young voters, but also their persistence.
Historic Firsts and Young, Diverse Candidates
The 2018 midterms saw a massive increase in elected officials who look and act like Americans aged 18-35. Millennial representation in Congress more than doubled, increasing from 14 to more than 30 members. Millennials, along with the subsequent Generation Z, are the largest and most diverse eligible voting bloc America has ever seen—in 2018 young voters are set to make up 34 percent of the eligible voting population. This gives young voters a larger share of the potential electorate than any other age group. Despite this, only six percent of state legislators were 35 or younger just prior to the 2018 election. In 2017, the average age of a U.S. Representative was 57, the average of a U.S. Senator was 61. When such a gap exists between the lived experiences of a large portion of the electorate and the lived experiences of legislators, it should come as no surprise that issues largely affecting younger Americans are often not addressed. The 2018 election saw a slew of firsts for candidates who both physically and politically better represent their youngest constituents..."
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