Exploring Youth Voter Turnout

Last November’s midterm elections saw one of the highest percentages of youth voters compared to past elections. 27% of those in the 18-29 age group voted in the 2022 midterms, which was the second highest after 2018’s 28%. However, it’s too soon to know the real results. “Analysts seem to differ on why turnout among the 18-29 age group was so high compared to past elections,” said Mary Haberman, a history professor at Whatcom Community College. Early voter turnout is calculated using data taken from exit polls. Actual voting statistics won’t be available for a while.

Some Whatcom students believe the increase in youth voters this midterm is due to concerns about issues such as Roe v. Wade, climate change, inflation and college loan forgiveness. These are typically issues that directly affect young people.

“This election was galvanized to reach younger voters, with many ads and politicians running on platforms that “matter” to younger voters,” said Adam Golob, political science adjunct professor at Whatcom Community College.

Haberman suggested another reason for higher youth turnout might be due to increased access to voting in some states like Washington. This includes same-day registration and the ability to register to vote at sixteen. 

The competitiveness of the election may also influence how many people are voting, Haberman said. “More people are motivated to get out if the election is predicted to be close.”

Student gather around campus ballot box to encourage voting in 2022 midterms.
Student march to campus ballot box to encourage voting in 2022 midterms. Photo by Rachma Tsabitah.

Voter turnout among young people may be growing, but it’s still significantly lower than those of older age groups. Only 39% of registered voters in the 18-29 age group returned their ballots in Washington state, the lowest of any age group.

Many young people tend to agree that their social circles may not be as interested in voting as they should be. Twenty-three-year-old Whatcom student Jayme McAdam said young people are preoccupied with other things such as juggling school and work, so they may not have the time to educate themselves enough to make an informed vote.

Whatcom student Erandi Sandoval, 26, also said young people may not have as many responsibilities or may not have experienced enough of life to be able to care about most issues discussed in the elections.

“Youth are not yet as invested in some things that politics can affect: income and property taxes, home ownership, business laws and taxes, pensions, financial investments,” said Whatcom political science professor Barry Maxwell.

Other students are discouraged from voting because they feel they are not informed enough to be able to thoroughly understand what they are voting for. Eighteen-year-old Katelyn Upson, who voted for the first time in the last midterm election, said ”the most difficult part about voting is trying to find accessible, in-depth information regarding candidates. It was also really difficult to find them stating clearly what they stood for, especially for positions that were perhaps not as legislative bill-passing as others.”


Why was the youth voter turnout so high this midterm election compared to elections of the past?

ADAM GOLOBPolitical Science Adjunct Faculty – Whatcom

Based on what I know politically about the USA, voting has historically had low turnouts in midterm elections overall, with youths always voting less than older individuals. Usually, this is based on lack of efficacy, lack of interest, or general lack of feelings that election results directly influence the lives of youths. This election was galvanized to reach younger voters, with many ads and politicians running on platforms that “matter” to younger voters—namely issues like abortion, LGBT rights, race, and other topics that have become “hot topics” of the day. These “hot topics” change with each generation. In the past, things like the Vietnam war, were “young people issues.” Today, “young people issues” are being spotlighted once again to bring out younger voters. And since the younger the voter, the more likely that voter is to vote Democratic, then the Democratic platforms really pushed these issues to help mitigate having an “old” Democratic president (one aspect that Republicans have used to hamper Biden and remove him from the younger generations).


MARY HABERMAN – History Full-time Faculty – Whatcom

First, analysts seem to differ on whether turnout among the 18-29 age group was so high compared to past elections.  Preliminary results are based on exit polls which aren’t as accurate as actual voting statistics which will likely come out later. 

The last midterm election in 2018 also saw higher turnout among young people than in the past so maybe we are seeing a trend of more young people voting, which is great.  Increased turnout could be due to the competitiveness of elections – more people are motivated to get out if the election is predicted to be close.  (Preliminary results show higher youth turnout in states where elections were especially competitive.)   Overall turnout for this midterm was also high (so maybe not just among young people).   One thing is clear in this election and recent elections: when young people vote, it is better for Democrats than Republicans.

In recent years, many states have tried to make registering to vote easier, which is important for increasing new voter turnout.  In Washington you can now register when you’re 16 (though you can’t vote until you’re 18).  Washington also allows for later registration and even same day registration (though you have to do it in person). 


BARRY MAXWELL – Political Science Full-time Faculty – Whatcom

Too soon for any academic studies, but my guess: 

– Supreme Court overturning of Roe v Wade allowing states to decide abortion access.

– price inflation that directly hits youth 

– presence of Trump-supported candidates 


Why is it still so much lower, when compared to older age demographics?

ADAM GOLOB – Political science professor

As I said, the older one is, the higher the chance of voting. Numerous studies suggest the “whys”–the older generations feel that they have a say in government, they hold greater efficacy, they are more interested in the topics that affect their lives more directly (things like taxes, retirement, social security, etc), or they have simply lived long enough to know that governments change more than they stay the same (as someone who has only lived through one or two presidents might not be able to see).


MARY HABERMAN – History professor

Young voters haven’t developed the habit of voting yet. Maybe they aren’t yet registered and in most states you have to register weeks ahead of an election. I also hear from my students that they sometimes don’t feel confident that they know enough to vote.  To that I would say, yes, it’s important to learn about the issues and educate yourself, but you don’t have to be an expert on everything to be able to vote for candidates who align with your values.  And you don’t have to vote on everything on a ballot. Other possible reasons: sometimes young people are still figuring out what they think.  And some are turned off by the negativity in politics, which I think have has been worse than usual.  But even amidst the negativity, it is possible to vote for good candidates who are trying to work for positive change.  Another factor: young people move a lot and aren’t always living where their ballots may be sent. 


BARRY MAXWELL – Political science professor

This has been studied. General answer is that youth are not yet as invested in some things that politics can affect. Income and property taxes, home ownership, business laws and taxes, pensions, financial investments.  These things often grow as personal priorities and people sometimes get get more conservative as they age. 


Why does the youth vote mostly Democrat?

ADAM GOLOB – Political science professor

Youth today vote mostly Democratic due to the party-divide. The parties choose their “bases” much like television stations choose their viewers. The Democrats rally around the “young issues” and champion the causes that younger generations are galvanized around (even if they don’t understand the real politics of them). All people are prone to review politics through a “headlines only” filter, believing in sources they agree with, dismissing the “other side” as “out of it,” or finding causes that sound like they should agree with them like “wokeness” or “critical race theory” even if these terms are used as buzzwords only. Both parties are well aware of this issue-based, lack of research voting, and they use it to bolster supporters and reach for certain demographics. For Democrats, those demographics include BIPOC, LGBTQ+ populations, and younger generations.


MARY HABERMAN – History professor

I’d say 2 key reasons: the 18-29 year old age group is more diverse than older groups and people of color are more likely to vote Democratic (though there’s variation in the rate within this diverse group).  Young white voters also voted more for Democrats than Republicans in the young age group, but by smaller margins than non-white voters.

The second reason is that the Democratic party’s stand on some key issues are more in line with young people’s views on those issues, though it is hard to say what are the most important of those issues.  Some key issues might be: college loan forgiveness, protecting abortion rights, efforts to control gun violence, anti-racism, LGBTQ rights, climate change.


BARRY MAXWELL Political science professor

See above. Democrats tend to speak more to programs that might be attractive to those on the lower end of the economic scale, which describes most youth. Also, youth tend to be more idealistic about many things. Some of that idealism can wear off with more life experience.

One thought on “Exploring Youth Voter Turnout

  1. Great article. Loved Golob’s analysis of why youth vote Democratic “The Democrats rally around the “young issues” and champion the causes that younger generations are galvanized around”, this is how the two party system can subjugate the population. To simply point the finger at the other party than to blame the more underlying issues such as capitalism. A lot of the causes championed by the Democratic party can be good things that we strive for but at the end of the day many Democratic candidates will put the economy over the lives of our citizens. We call the American Democratic party “left wing” but American politics is so right wing that even our leftist party shouldn’t even be considered leftist. Regardless it is better to vote against right wing efforts and to slow their shift into dystopia. May the workers of the world be freed from their chains.?

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