‘Thank you Gen Z!’ How young voters saved the Democrats

Exit polls show youth vote remains one of Democrats’ key constituencies, John Bowden writes

Wednesday 09 November 2022 22:01 GMT
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Younger voters were part of the blue wall that fended off a so-called “red tsunami” on Tuesday and contributed to a number of unlikely Democratic successes.

Exit polls from the National Election Pool (NEP), which includes a consortium of news outlets and the Edison Research group, found that younger voters aged 18-29 were the only voter group by age to overwhelmingly support Democrats in the midterms. Sixty-three per cent of voters in that age group voted for Democratic House candidates, according to the poll, while 35 per cent voted for Republicans.

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself a millennial lawmaker, predicted that the youth vote numbers were the harbinger of a “generational shift” in politics.

“The role of young people in this election cannot be understated. Turnout delivered on many of these races,” she wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning after the impact of the youth vote became more clear. “By 2024, Millennials & Gen Z voters will outnumber voters who are Baby Boomers and older, 45/25. We are beginning to see the political impacts of that generational shift.”

President Joe Biden acknowledged that generational shift at a White House event on Wednesday as he took a victory lap around Republicans and even media pundits who had predicted his electoral downfall. The support of young voters was attributed by the president to a desire by America’s younger generations to see action on climate change in support of a livable future.

“I especially want to thank the young people of this nation, who I’m told — I haven’t seen the number — voted in historic numbers again. And just as they did two years ago...they voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms and [for] student debt relief,” said the president.

John Della Volpe, a pollster and author of “FIGHT: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear & Passion to Save America”, said there would have been a Republican red wave were it not for young voters supporting Democrats.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, concurred.

“You better listen to young voters. They can’t keep saving you and then get only scolding from you,” she said.

The exit poll suggests that Democrats’ biggest hurdle to overcome involving younger voters is the turnout question: An ever-present issue that has dogged Democratic candidates for years. Younger voters have some of the worst turnout rates of any demographic, and this year was no exception: Voters aged 18-29 made up about 12 per cent of the electorate, a historically common share.

Voters arrive to cast their ballots at the Bethel Lutheran Church on November 8, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. After months of candidates campaigning, Americans are voting in the midterm elections to decide close races across the nation. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

Racial and gender divides were important to Democrats’ success on Tuesday as well; exit polls indicate the party won with women, Black voters, Hispanic voters and Asian-Americans, though the latter two categories were demographics that broke for Democrats by much lower margins than they have in previous years.

Faiz Shakir, an adviser to Sen Bernie Sanders, who galvanised young voters during his campaigns for president, celebrated the turnout among young people, while lamenting that many had to wait in long lines to exercise their right to vote: “You love to see enthusiasm and commitment of young voters”.

Turnout in general appeared to be up over past election cycles, likely spurred on by a wide range of pressing issues including historic levels of inflation, the unprecedented attack on the US Capitol and the reversal of federal protections for abortion rights by the Supreme Court.

Abortion rights were a serious motivating factor for voters in Tuesday’s contests, and it appears more and more as if the conservative movement’s decades-long effort to end abortion in America may have just cost the GOP a number of key races thanks to voter anger at their success. Four in 10 voters told exit pollsters that they were angry about the Dobbs decision overturning Roe vs Wade earlier this year, while less than half that number said that they were enthusiastic about the ruling.

Students cheer as Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks at a campaign event at Atlanta University Center Consortium Campus on Election Day as voters all across Georgia take to the polls to cast their ballot on November 8, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Forty-four per cent of young voters listed abortion as their top issue in the campaign, according to exit polls. And in races where the issue was on the ballot directly or candidates made it a main talking point, voters swept Democrats to victories. Such was the case in Pensylvania, with the victory of John Fetterman, in New Hampshire with the victory of Maggie Hassan, and in Michigan with Gretchen Whitmer’s victory.

Jack Lobel, a spokesperson for Gen Z-led group Voters of Tomorrow, pointed to abortion rights as key to the youth vote.

“We saw that abortion certainly was a top issue,” he told NPR. “I think young voters recognised that when Roe fell it may have been the first of many rights to fall.”

Mr Lobel added that economic issues are also hitting young people, as the costs of health care, education and housing rises.

“We want to build a better future for ourselves we want to build a better future for our families as much as anyone,” he added.

One of the biggest victories of the night was won by Gen Z. Maxwell Frost, a 25-year-old, will take Madison Cawthorn’s spot as the youngest member of the US House of Representatives and now holds the title of the first member of his generation elected to Congress.

“Half of Gen-Z isn’t even old enough to vote yet. Over the coming years, we’ll see the youth vote become even more of a force to be reckoned with. What we want is bold transformational change,” he tweeted after his victory.

Antonio Arellano, of the youth mobilisation group NextGen America, posited that young people were responsible for staving off a “massive Republican roll back. That’s a fact.”

A number of key races remain uncalled, including the Arizona gubernatorial contest and Senate race, as well as neighbouring Nevada’s Senate race. If Democrats end up holding the Senate (and, potentially, even the House), they will have America’s younger, progressive generations to thank.

When Mr Arellano pointed out how pivotal the youth vote was in Tuesday’s midterm elections, a common theme emerged in the resplies on Twitter: “Thank you Gen Z!!!”

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