Young Voters Are Critical, If They Can Be Convinced to Vote

At post-Roe rallies across the country, speakers voiced concern not just for bodily autonomy but for the systems that control it. Confidence in the U.S. democratic system — and Democrats, in particular — is chipping. “If you care about abortion rights,” said congressional candidate Summer Lee (D-PA), “it’s time you stop saying, ‘Vote blue no matter who.’” 

As rights disappear,the climate crisis implodes, and prices, shootings, and student debt rise, many young people are wondering: Does my vote matter? According to a recent poll, 42 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said no. The data, collected by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, found that 56 percent of respondents feel the political landscape is not able to handle the nation’s challenges.  

In a survey from The New York Times and Siena College, young people represented the largest demographic that said they would not vote for either Biden or Trump in a 2024 rematch. Only one third said they are determined to vote this November.

They may be frustrated with the government, but young Americans are not quite ready to throw the towel in. At 36 percent, the youth turnout in the 2018 midterms was the largest in U.S. history — a 79 percent jump from the preceding 2014 election. Following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe, voting interest among young women rose from 54 to 60 percent compared to the year before. 

“Young people like myself have been propelled into activism and political engagement by a number of issues,” wrote Priya Elngovan. She is the director of research at All In Together, a nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit. “We’ve been mobilized by the climate crisis, the new labor movement and racial injustice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Since 2020, we’ve protested, organized, donated, voted and put our energy towards the candidates who promised to take action on the issues we care about most.”
Young people want change — they just aren’t convinced that voting is an effective way of going about it. If Democrats want to capitalize on the youth vote, which typically leans left, they need to restore young Americans’ faith in the democratic system. With a recently revived climate and tax deal on the table, Democrats may have a new win for voters to rally behind.

FMF President Ellie Smeal sees reproductive rights, climate change, and gun violence as some of the major voting issues for November. “Young voters were a decisive factor for the Democratic victories in the 2018 midterms, as well as the elections of Barack Obama and then President Biden,” she said. “I’m convinced they will be a decisive factor in the 2022 election.”

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