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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 Thursday 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.”
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.
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.
Forty-four per cent of young voters listed abortion as their top issue in the campaign, according to exit polls.
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.