Super Tuesday

A Virginia Tech student wears an "I Voted" sticker after voting on super Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2020.

Sometimes people complain that politicians do not care about the voters’ true interests or desires — they only care about your vote. If this is the case, then any person seated or running for public office should recognize, address and prescribe policies appealing to young people's interests in order to obtain their vote. 

It is not a bad thing for a person's representative to push policy to garner votes. There can, however, be a problem with how much — or little — the representative values the particular constituent’s vote. In the recent 2022 U.S. midterm elections, Republicans were evidently perceived as insufficient to young voters, ostensibly because they paid too little attention to their main interests; problems such as climate change, abortion, and gun control.  

An estimated 27% of voters under the age of 30 cast a ballot in the 2022 midterm elections — the second-highest turnout for a midterm in nearly 30 years. Additionally, young voters split in favor of Democrats by an astounding 28 points — an increase from the 2020 election. 

Karen Hult, Ph.D., a professor of political science at Virginia Tech, said that there are many factors which can influence young people into voting at higher rates. 

“The higher turnout likely reflected a number of factors, including the perceived competitiveness of the races, whether a state is a ‘battleground’ or ‘swing state’ in presidential elections, the number of congressional and statewide races and outreach and contact efforts, especially by Democrats,” Hult said. “Direct impact is harder to identify, but one can make the case that high turnout of young voters in strongly contested races could well have helped Democratic candidates.”

According to an NPR interview with John Della Volpe, the director of polling at Harvard University, while this younger age group only represents 12% of the voting population, they made their presence known by canceling out votes of older age groups.

“We would have had a red wave, actually, if not for younger people because, if you look at votes of people between 40 and 49 years old, Republicans won by seven points,” Volpe said. “50 to 64-year-olds, they won by nine points, and they won by 12 points among people over the age of 65.” 

Clearly, young voters were influential in Democrats maintaining the Senate and did better than expected in the House. Young people ostensibly voted Democrat not because they approved of the party or their leaders, but because they disapproved of the leaders and ideas of the Republicans. President Joe Biden had a 37% approval rating from voters 18–39 the day of the midterms — the lowest of any age demographic. Nevertheless, the day after the midterms, Biden was praising young voters for their record turnout in favor of his party and addressed what he believes to be reasons for the increase.

“I especially want to thank the young people of this nation, who — I’m told — voted in historic numbers again … They voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and the student debt relief,” Biden said.

Biden is correct in his assessment: young voters turned out for Democrats because they care about the issues being addressed such as climate change, abortion and gun crime, and about the particular solutions the party prescribes for the future as opposed to the policies promoted by Republicans.

According to a national poll conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School,  inflation, abortion, protecting democracy, climate change and gun control are the  issues young voters care the most about. According to a PEW Research survey, Generation Z voters who identify as Republicans align more with Democrats than they do with older generational Republicans on many of these key issues. Therefore, some Democrats, by running on these issues and prescribing moderate policies, could win-over enough young Republicans to win their election. It also could mean Republicans did not sufficiently address young voters’ interests in general. 

Aidan LeBlanc, a senior at Virginia Tech studying criminology and sociology, said that it is extremely important for young people to vote because, for them, the issues are too urgent and too impactful. 

“Voting allows our generation to have a voice — aiding in the selection of who will represent our best interests.” Leblanc said. “Many of the issues being discussed and voted on impact us more than older generations.” 

In the 2022 midterm elections, Maxwell Frost, a 25-year-old Democrat from Florida, was the first member of Generation Z to be elected into US Congress — presumably the first of many. Generation Z makes up an estimated 70 million Americans, many of which are still too young to vote. Nevertheless, voters under 30 are projected to represent over a third of the electorate by 2036. Frost isn’t the lone voice of Generation Z, but he will be able to directly impact legislation that will correspond in the direction his generation of Democrats wants to go toward.

Young voters are more likely, compared to other groups, to be unaffiliated with either party — suggesting an expectation of heightened interest in their vote since they are less likely to be loyal. Politicians should focus more of their attention on the issues that matter to young people because if they don’t, politicians may lose such a vote to their opponent, to a third-party candidate or may lose that vote entirely. Young voters are keeping their representatives accountable. 

According to Hult, young people who are first-time voters may develop a pattern of voting, especially if they are intrigued by the race. 

“It may be important more generally that starting in 2018, younger voters have been more active. This in turn tends to be related to developing a ‘habit’ of participation that can lead to continued voting,” Hult said. “The emphasis by many younger, college-educated individuals certainly has caught the attention of elected officials, and strong turnout can at least encourage those officials to focus on the concerns of such voters.” 

Individuals seated or running for public office should focus more attention on young voter’s interests. Republicans learned a hard lesson in the recent midterm elections in part because they did not recognize or address the problems young voters are facing and what they prescribe to solve them. Young Americans clearly are showing out to vote in order to make their voices heard, and therefore, public officials should take heed to those voices. Of course, every age group deserves respect, attention and value, but every age group is also different: the electorate is shifting — quickly — and politicians would be prudent to shift along with it.

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