It’s time to do away with the phrase ‘Young people don’t vote’. In the 2022 midterm election, voters under 30 achieved the second-highest turnout in 30 years. Young people vote. And now, for three elections in a row, their turnout rates are trending sharply up. This is no coincidence; it’s the new normal. Against voter suppression, against pundits’ predictions of low youth turnout and against all odds, younger voters across the country cast millions of votes.
According to Tufts University estimates, matched to census data on the number of eligible voters 18-29 year olds, more than 13 million younger Americans are likely to vote in the midterms of 2022.
In several states, younger people could have made the difference in tight races. In a grouping of nine competing states – Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin – overall young voter turnout was higher than the national average.
And in 12 states, overall turnout was higher than 2018, which was an exceptionally high year for voter enthusiasm. These states include Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
This year, Vote.org ran a campaign focused on voters aged 18-29, Vote Ready, reaching millions of voters through social media, micro-influencers, digital and radio, print ads, earned media, direct voter contact and achieved more. Over the course of the 2022 election cycle, the Vote.org website and voter tools (registration, verification, poll request, poll location, and general information) reached more than 11 million voters, and at least 1.16 million of those users were under the age of 35. Of this group, nearly half a million were under the age of 25.
In Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada, states with some of the tightest margins, Vote.org has reached more than half a million students through our campus engagement program. From the start of this cycle, it was clear that younger voters were committed to democracy – they just needed reliable information and reminders on how to navigate the voting system.
Influencers could also have helped increase turnout among younger voters. On or around Election Day, popular celebrities like Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Sofia Carson and several NBA players – including CJ McCollum and Malcolm Brogdon – asked their hundreds of millions of Instagram followers to make their voices heard.
We’ve also worked with “micro-influencers” on college campuses, particularly at HBCUs across the country. Research has shown the importance of meeting voters where they are, and for many young people these empowering messages are an important reminder of their civic duty. Especially on campus, influential students can make a difference by encouraging their peers to vote as well.
Before this election, the dominant narrative was that young voters just don’t vote at the level of other age groups. Vote.org took on that challenge head-on with our work this cycle, and younger voters resisted this flawed narrative with a vengeance.
On social media, long lines on election day on college campuses showed voters’ enthusiasm. Young people voted. This was both an encouraging sight and one that showed how clearly the odds were stacked against younger voters. In many cases, these long lines are evidence of political failure. When I was a student, state officials closed a polling station on my college campus in New York and moved it across town. Many students did not have cars on campus, and this excess burden made it difficult for students to vote. In fact, this year long lines on campus have often been evidence of reduced polling hours.
Long lines are intentional: There are elected officials who are afraid of high youth turnout. And yet college students and younger voters often go to great lengths — long lines, distant polling stations, navigating new and complicated laws from state to state — to cast their ballots. But they don’t have to. We know how to run elections successfully and make elections more accessible. Now it’s important that we fight against the type of voter suppression that aims to dampen voting behavior that disproportionately targets black and younger voters.
Imagine what the next generation could achieve without voter suppression. Imagine how different our democracy could be if these younger voters continued to make themselves heard with even larger percentages. There are nearly 40 million people under the Gen Z umbrella; it is the third largest generation alive right now. Gen Z can and will shape our future with their voices across the country. You are committed to the future of our democracy. Now we have to work to make voting less burdensome for them.
Younger Americans will shape our collective future, and if their engagement in the election is any indication, the future of our democracy is bright. The children are alright.