Donald Trump’s presidency has sparked revolt among large swaths of young Americans.
But as Election Day draws near, a question looms: Will they vote?
Typical midterm elections tend to draw out an older, whiter electorate and fewer single women than presidential years. But because of the deep disdain for Trump among the younger generation, this midterm cycle appears supercharged by younger voters who were stung by the outcome in 2016, and cognizant that their generation could have made the difference for Hillary Clinton.
Strong turnout within that age group could tip some of the closer House races into the Democratic column.
There’s “an embarrassment that comes with having not voted, or having not cared about voting in the past,” said Jessica Cohen, a 30-year-old product manager for a software company in California.
“(People) are realizing how many consequences there have been since 2016,” she added.
“That apathy has gotten us into some serious trouble.”
New polling this week confirms that the energy among youth voters on the ground isn’t a mirage.
A new poll from Harvard Institute of Politics this week found that 18-to-29-year-olds are far more likely to vote in Tuesday’s midterm election than they were in 2010 and 2014. Forty percent of those polled said they would “definitely vote” in the midterms.
President Trump’s job approval rating among those under 30 was 26%. If he runs for re-election in 2020, 59% of those polled said they “will never” vote for him.
In one striking finding, 65% of likely voters in the 18-to-29 age group said they were more fearful than hopeful about the future. Immigration and refugees topped the list of concerns, followed by jobs, President Trump (or leadership issues), and health care.
The energy among the younger generation has also resulted in a crop of candidates in their late 20s and early 30s.
One of those candidates is 31-year-old Katie Hill, the Democrat running in California’s 25th District against incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Knight. Clinton won this district in 2016.
Hill is one of the youngest Congressional candidates running this November, along with Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s First District, and Lauren Underwood in Illinois’s 14th District.
Every weekend morning in recent months, dozens of young voters have shown up at Hill’s campaign headquarters in Santa Clarita. The office is wedged in a strip mall between a gun armory and a vape shop, underscoring the political diversity of this partly-suburban, partly-rural district north of Los Angeles.
The line of canvassers spilling out the door is decidedly youthful: Echo Park hipsters, Berniacs sporting 2020 T-Shirts, athletic young moms pushing jogging strollers, and large contingents of USC and UCLA students who are competing over who can make the most voter contacts in California’s competitive House districts.
Hill, a first-time candidate who filmed one of her campaign commercials while free-climbing a hundred-foot rock wall in nearby Texas Canyon, blends in easily in her purple campaign T-shirt and aqua skinny jeans.
But she steps up on the staircase to rally this fresh crop of doorknockers, warning that national Republican groups are pouring last-minute money into the race because it is polling within the margin of error.
“You can tell people when you’re knocking on those doors that this election could come down to a few hundred votes,” Hill tells the group as they ready the lists on their clipboards. “So their vote really will matter more in this election than probably any election that they’ll ever vote in - and that there’s no path to flipping the House and holding Donald Trump accountable or making any real progress across the country if we don’t flip this seat.”
At Hill’s headquarters, 30-year-old Caitlin Carlson said she was relieved that people in her generation finally “want to step up and do something.”
“We have been coasting a little bit. We just always kind of assumed that things would work out,” Carlson said. “Taking the House back is the first step to getting our country back on the rails. It just feels like we’re on this crazy train right now where logic and facts don’t matter.”
She views Tuesday’s election as “the first real big test for millennials to have faith that the system works.”
Nationally, Democrats have engaged in a forceful effort this fall to convince younger voters that flipping control of the US House could serve as a check on Trump administration policies that they don’t agree with.
They have enlisted many of the potential 2020 Democratic candidates – including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris – to deliver that message.
On Friday night in Oceanside, Sanders drew hundreds of cheering, foot-stomping young fans to a rally organized by California Young Democrats for down ballot candidates, including Mike Levin, the Democrat who is vying for the open seat of retiring Republican Congressman Darrell Issa in Orange and San Diego counties.
Levin, an environmental attorney, delivered an even more pointed message than Sanders – telling the crowd that the 2018 midterm election will be “won or lost” by people between the ages of 18 and 35.
“In 2016, 31 million voters in that age group, all very much eligible to vote, decided not to,” Levin told the rally crowd gathered in a gymnasium. “The result was Donald Trump – and Charlottesville, and a tax cut designed to benefit the wealthiest 1% of Americans, and Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.” (Kavanaugh’s name alone drew the loudest boos of the night).
“You stay home on Election Day, and Republicans stay in charge,” Levin continued. “Your healthcare gets taken away, your student loans become more impossible to pay off, and places like Pulse (the nightclub in Orlando) and Parkland are joined by many more preventable tragedies.”
Christina Ruiz, a 31-year-old in the crowd who came to see Sanders, said she had just sent in her ballot - the first she has ever cast in a midterm election.
“My friends are way more involved in voting now,” said Ruiz, a single mom who tutors at MiraCosta College where the rally was being held. “Even in the midterms. I never really remember them posting about them, and now they’re on Facebook every day talking about it.”
When Ruiz thinks about Democrats retaking the House, she said she hopes they will advance Sanders’ agenda for universal health care and free college tuition.
“That’s still a pipe dream, but it’s something that we’re moving towards,” Ruiz said.
She also believes divided government could force more compromise and bring more unity to America. “Right now there’s so much polarization going on. I feel it; I feel it even at school…. Before people were always Democrats or Republicans or something else, but you didn’t have that hatred. Now it’s like you’re afraid to talk about politics, even with people in your own family.”
Perhaps no one has more faith in the power of the youth vote this cycle than Hill herself.
The former head of a non-profit that was focused on the region’s homeless crisis, Hill often reminds her audiences that she never expected to fill this role – but decided she needed to step up if her perspective was going to be heard.
“We have to turn out young people, and I believe that we can this time,” Hill said in an interview. “I had so many people tell me that’s a losing strategy, and I just don’t believe that’s true. This is a campaign, and this is a moment in history, when people are going to show up.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correctly attribute quotes to Christina Ruiz.