Youth Voting: How Activism Works

500%. That’s how much early voting by adults ages 18-29 rose in Texas from the previous midterm election.

It wasn’t an anomaly. Early youth voting was up 360% in Georgia and 400% in Nevada, and states across the country saw significant gains in young voter turnout. In fact, said CIRCLE, with nearly a third of young Americans ages 18-29 casting ballots, the youth vote was “a powerful voting bloc in the 2018 midterms.”

We predicted high participation. How did we know, and can we expect it to continue?

We all know that the desire to help others live better, happier lives is part of human nature. Young adults in particular support the greater good over political partisanship – especially when they believe someone’s civil rights are being challenged.

Of course, our country has faced civil rights turmoil and other contentious social issues before. Why didn’t those times inspire young people to vote in record numbers?

Conditions were ripe for engagement

For this year’s election, a number of conditions aligned to create a climate more conducive to young people voting than ever before, as revealed by our Cause and Social Influence report.

First, technology and social media combined with cable news and all the other news sources out there have made information almost unavoidable. It’s extremely difficult today to completely tune out what’s happening to our fellow humans.

Second, we know that civil rights and healthcare are the top social issues young people in general are most concerned about – two issues that have dominated the news since the last election.

Third, almost half (48%) of young Americans believe the U.S. is off track, with barely a quarter (27%) believing the opposite.

Fourth, more young adults than ever view voting as an action worth taking. In fact, they believe voting is the most effective way to create change. Nearly 75% of young Americans view voting as a form of activism; 95% see it as one’s duty as a citizen.

Finally, this is a wave that’s been building for some time. Consider these examples:

·       In 1990, popular musicians started Rock the Vote to encourage civic engagement among young people. This year, they created an app that lets canvassers digitally register voters in the field without an internet connection. Now with 900 partners, they have registered nearly 2 million voters.

·       In 2004, HeadCount formed to partner with musicians and concert venues to register young people to vote. The group has registered half a million voters and built a network of 20,000 volunteers.

·       NextGen America launched in 2013 to fight climate change, but focused this year on registering and motivating more than 250,000 young people to vote. By Election Day in their 41 Youth Vote Indicator Precincts nationwide, more than 50% of all registered voters were 18-35.

·       And movements keep coming. This year, survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting formed March For Our Lives in 2018 to focus on gun safety. Volunteers visited 30 states in 60 days and registered tens of thousands of young voters.

These movements have long emphasized the importance of voting, and their work is now bearing fruit. We predicted large numbers of voters this election because young adults as a group are extraordinarily dissatisfied with the status quo; at the same time, they are extremely confident in their own ability to bring about change – especially through the ballot box.

Before the midterms, 71% of young adults considered voting to be a form of activism. Given the success they saw in 2018, we predict that young adults will have an even bigger influence on the 2020 election.

Derrick Feldmann