By Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University and first published on theconversation.com.

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.

Young people showed decisive support for liberal candidates and ideas. 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 reelection by a narrow margin of less than 6,000 votes. Young Montanans, by favoring him by 67 percent to 28 percent, gave him a relative vote advantage of over 25,000 votes. If young Montanans voted like older Montanans did on Tuesday, Montana would have a Republican Senator today.

In many ways, this election cycle showed how different groups can create diverse paths to political engagement. It shows in the numbers, and importantly, 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 Zs are thinking, feeling and doing when it comes to politics.

Here’s what we found.

All signs pointed to wave of young people

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.

It’s clear that more young people were actively engaged in politics this year than 2016.

Why?

Cynicism and worry aren’t obstacles

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.”

In this year’s survey, we found that young people who felt cynical were far more likely to say they would vote. Other research has found that cynicism about politics can suppress or drive electoral engagement depending on the contexts.

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.

Our poll results suggest political involvement in this generation is far above the levels we usually see among youth, especially in midterm election cycles.

In fact, almost 3 out of 4 youth – 72 percent – said they believe that dramatic change could occur in this country if people banded together.

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. Beyond almost any doubt, young people have gotten involved and felt ready to make a change in American politics – and so they did.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Young people are seeing what is happening to our country with all the violence, and the violence that is happening in their schools, universities, and workplaces. They want to have a voice, and make a difference for a better world. However, what I wonder is, what the youthful voters think when they witness what is happening right here in Florida, with this election fiasco. It is ridiculous that Governor Rick Scott declared himself the winner in the Florida Senate race, way before the votes were all counted, then started acting victorious, with his grins and smirks, along with his family members too, acting the same way, then proceeded to claim that extra votes were coming out of nowhere, that were changing the numbers away from his favor. Also the governor proceeding to make light of Senator Bill Nelson with his innuendoes. The next day or so, we saw the “angry man”, Rick Scott, and he started claiming he wasn’t going to let rag tag lawyers from DC, and liberals STEAL the election! The votes had not been all counted! What a cry-baby! No candidate should be allowed to declare their own self a winner in any election, before ALL the votes are tallied, and officially certified! Especially someone in his positon of power, as governor of Florida! Now who in reality is trying to steal the election?

  2. An automatic recount of all the votes is mandatory, within certain percentages in close race results. Also, if it is super close, in the results, it has to be hand-counted, and that takes a lot of time, sometimes days or weeks even. This automatic recount system all sounds fair and logical, however, some of the candidates in these close races have jumped, and filed lawsuits out of desperation, afraid they will lose. And in the case of Rick Scott’s lawsuit he filed, it was ruled on by a lady judge that Broward County has to have all their votes counted by seven o’clock tonight, instead of twelve o’clock tomorrow at noon, like all the other counties. That is a difference of 17 hours, by my calculations, so how many votes in Broward County won’t get hand counted, due to the fact that election supervisor won’t have as much time to get them all counted as the other counties. The Broward Supervisor of Elections has been working hard getting them counted, but it takes time, but Rick Scott alleges incompetence in the Broward supervisor’s office, and Democratic leaning Palm Beach County Supervisor of Election Office too. Mighty strange that Broward County is heavily Democratic, but this one county is not allowed as much time, as other counties to count their votes. The other counties have an extra 17 hours… Isn’t that something!? This ruling by the lady judge is very unfair and un-American, IMO! I certainly have a strong opinion of what is really going on in this election result fiasco! Not the first time Florida has been left in limbo with the election results, and alleged “stolen election”. Now it is not just Florida, but highly questionable results in Georgia’s governor’s race too. It is shameful, that is what it is! I think a charge of OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE should be in order for anybody that tries to keep the votes from being ALL counted, especially anyone in elected office with high power! Trying to snuff out the voter’s will! The votes aren’t coming out of the woodwork, they just haven’t all been counted….how ridiculous, anyone can see that the results will keep changing, as the votes are tallied, that has a brain.

  3. Think I will run for elected office for some position, and just as soon as the polls close, and I get to my campaign victory party headquarters, I will declare myself the ultimate winner of the race, and when the votes start coming in, I will howl foul, and fraud, because I personally know all the votes are for Mama Mia, and I will get in front of the media cameras, and tell them about these awful supervisor of election officials, and their incompetence, trying to steal my seat, and steal my thunder, and I will tell them that there is just all these fraudulent votes pouring in out of the woodwork! I will then go get my choice for my personal lawyer, Michael Avenattti, if he isn’t too busy, and I will bring in the rag tag liberal activists and get Judge Judy on my side, and have her make a ruling that the officials have 5 minutes to get all the votes counted, or cease and desist, forever and ever…AMEN LOL

  4. Okay, 266 mail- in- ballots were located tucked away in a mail room at an Opa-locka mail facility. They did not arrive by seven o’clock election day, so they are saying they won’t be counted, or counted in the recount. How is that the supervisor of election’s fault? How is this fair to the voters? Who knows if the majority of those votes were Republican or Democrat, or whatever? This is exactly why I don’t vote by mail. Too much chance for fraud! If a person is unable to get around good, ill, in the hospital, or out of state, or out of the country, such as the military people, I get it, voting by mail, but if someone is relatively healthy enough to go to the polls, and they have transportation, why risk voting by mail?

  5. Governor Rick Scott has gotten 7,500 volunteers lined up to monitor the recounts all across the state, at all the supervisor of election offices…..wow, and he has already called for an FDLE investigation… I am actually surprised the governor didn’t use his power to call in the state’s National Guard to guard the votes being counted…LOL

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