For decades of elections, the “youth” vote was like the city of Atlantis. It promised untold (political) riches, if only you could find it.
And like Atlantis, no one could. Sure, Barack Obama galvanized young people in 2008 and, to a lesser extent, 2012. But that felt like a personality-driven movement, as young people viewed Obama as their generation’s John F. Kennedy. Without another Obama waiting in the wings, it was hard to see young people being so involved again.
All of which makes what happened in the 2018 midterm election so interesting. According to data published today by the Census Bureau, the prime driver of the record turnout in last November’s election was voters aged 18-29.
“Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group — a 79% jump,” wrote Census’s Jordan Misra.
That mattered – hugely – because of how overwhelmingly young voters backed Democratic House candidates. Voters under 30 voted 67%-35% for Democratic candidates over Republican ones, according to 2018 exit polling. That was, by far, the biggest gap – for either party – among any age group.
(Interesting sidebar: For all of the talk of the surge of female voters in 2018, turnout increased roughly similarly from 2014 to 2018 among women, 12%, and men – 11%).
On its face, that should worry Republicans. A Pew poll released earlier this year showed that millennials and Gen Z members are significantly more liberal – across the board – than members of older generations. Seven in 10 members of Gen Z (those born after 1996) believe government should do more to solve people’s problems; 64% of millennials said the same. More than 6 in 10 in both generations said the increasingly ethnic and racial diversity in the country is good for society.
The Point: What motivated such a big youth turnout in 2018? My guess is Donald Trump. Who, yes, will be on the ballot again next November.