Young people represent a major potential political force: 49 million people ages 18-29 are eligible to vote. This is more than the 45 million eligible seniors, according to The Center For Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.
Turnout for voters between ages 18 and 29 surged to a number not seen in a midterm election in a quarter-century. Overall, 31 percent of eligible young people cast ballots, according to an analysis done at CIRCLE. This exceeds participation from the same age group in the 2014 midterms by about 10 percent. However, it is still far below the comparison of the 2016 presidential election, when 51 percent of eligible millennial voters cast a ballot, according to the Pew Research Center study, “Millennials Approach Baby Boomers as America’s Largest Generation in the Electorate.”
While millennials are quickly becoming the largest eligible voting generation, they do not yet vote consistently enough to be the most influential voting age group. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016, young people had some of the lowest percentages of registered and active voters. According to U.S. Census data, America’s voter participation tends to increase with age, with 65 to 74 y e a r – o l d s making up t h e most consistent and active group of voters in the U.S. Meanwhile, “Gen Z,” defined as people born from the mid-1990’ to the early 2000s, is just starting to come of voting age; seven million Gen Z voters were eligible to vote in 2016, according to Pew Research Center.
Another takeaway from midterm data is that young people showed strong support for liberal candidates and ideas. About 67 percent of young people supported Democratic candidates compared to just 32 percent for Republican candidates, according to CIRCLE. CIRCLE also noted in their findings that this 35-point gap is even larger than their preference toward Democrats in 2008, when President Barack Obama was first elected.
This fall, a group of researchers at CIRCLE conducted two large-scale national surveys of 2,087 Americans ages 18 to 24 to document and understand what members of Gen Z are thinking, feeling and doing when it comes to politics.
CIRCLE found that the proportion of young people who joined protests and marches tripled since the fall of 2016, from five percent to 15 percent. Participation was especially high among young people who are registered as Democrats.
CIRCLE 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 amount of youth who reported that they were paying attention to the midterm races rose to 46 percent.
Additionally, CIRCLE found that young people who felt cynical were far more likely to say they would vote. However, other research has indicated that cynicism about politics can suppress or drive electoral engagement depending on the contexts, as concluded by researchers at California State University, Los Angeles. Between this greater engagement in political issues and an increasing voter turnout, young people’s voices will most likely be amplified in elections moving forward.