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US midterms: Gen Z makes sure its voice is heard

Silja Thoms
November 12, 2022

Concerned about abortion access and the environment, the US midterms saw a surge in young people voting. This may have helped Democrats.

A young woman registers to vote in the midterm elections in the US
The turnout of younger voters is growing since 2018Image: Mary F. Calvert/REUTERS

"Life is wild": It was with these words that 25-year-old Maxwell Frost celebrated his 2022 midterms victory. After the Congressional election on a Democratic party ticket in Florida, Frost is now the first member of Generation Z, or Gen Z, to serve in office.

"The perspective I bring as a young person, as a young Black person, as a young Black Latino person from the South, is important," the young Democrat said in an interview with The New York Times.

While the definition of Gen Z varies, researchers and media tend to use the mid to late 1990s as the starting birth years and early 2010s as the cutting off point. A study by Pew Research, a Washington-based think tank, found that Gen Z are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, hold greater concerns about the future and more progressive and pro-government. 

How much influence did Gen Z have in US midterms

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, this year saw young people turn out at one of the hightest rates ever in a midterm.

The center estimated that 27% of those aged between 18 and 29 voted, just below the previous high point of 30% in the 2018 midterms. In previous decades, the youth voter turnout hovered around 20%. 

CIRCLE sees a clear trend of young people "increasing their electoral participation, leading movements, and making their voices heard on key issues that affect their communities," it said in an analysis.

Young voters tend to vote Democrat

The youth vote helped "hold back the red wave" expected in these midterms, the analysis found.

Young voters tend to favor Democrats by wide margins. Some 63% voted for the Democrats in the 2022 midterms, according to CNN National House Exit Polls. Among African-American and Latino voters in this age group, the trend toward the Democratic Party was even more pronounced. 

By turning out so strongly, young people's vote "proved pivotal" in some crucial races in individual US states, according to CIRCLE.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Democrat John Fetterman won by a narrow margin. CIRCLE data showed that 70% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for the Democratic candidate, a much greater percentage than in other age groups.

Signage outside of a polling location during the midterm elections in the US
Research says that many campaigns don't reach out to younger votersImage: Hannah Beier/REUTERS

"Young people proved once again that they’ll turn out to vote and impact election results," said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg from CIRCLE in a statement.

US President Joe Biden specifically thanked young people for their votes in a speech on Thursday, although his national approval ratings among young voters has fallen significantly since he took office.

But there are those who don't necessarily agree with this analysis. Data expert David Shor of Blue Rose Research, for example, warns against overestimating the significance of this year's youth vote. When the turnout of all age groups increases, it's important to look at not just the youth turnout but also at the proportion of youth votes as a percentage of the total votes cast. 

In these midterms, he said in a tweet, it seems the share of voters under 34 was likely lower (potentially by a fair margin) than it was in 2018. Plus, he warned in another tweet, not all votes were yet counted.

"Moving backwards doesn't make any sense"

Despite the tendency among young voters to cast ballots for Democrats, young people are more motivated by issues than political parties.

"There were a lot of issues on the ballots that young people cared about," 24-year-old Avo Mateo told DW in an interview from New York. She had spoken to hundreds of young people in the months leading up to the midterm elections, working to educate them on how, when and why they should vote. 

"I think we wanted to show that our voices can make a difference, and that we do matter as a population," said Mateo, who is part of Gen Z.

Reproductive rights and abortion access were some of the more important issues in these elections. Three quarters of 18 to 29-year-olds in the US believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, in a poll taken just before the Supreme Court voted to overturn the constitutional right to abortion. 

This issue is also significant for 19-year-old Katelyn Kovach, who voted for the first time in the midterms. "Moving backwards doesn't make any sense," she told DW. "Taking rights away is so silly to me. It's really disheartening."

Still, she said, she wants her voice to be heard and her views to show up on the political agenda.

A pedestrian crosses a street as the sun rises over the US Capitol in Washington D.C.
Gen Z is more concerned about policies than politican partiesImage: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS

Many others her age feel the same way. According to an analysis by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, young people cared particularly about climate protection, protecting democracy and inflation. Young people who tend to vote Republican were particularly concerned about the economy in the midterm elections, according to the same analysis.

Gen Z wants to make a change 

"We want to make a change. We are changemakers," said Mateo. To her, Gen Z is a generation that wants to make its voice heard and see the country in a better place in the future. "We want to find ways for people to come together and to find solutions, rather than continuing in this lack of action we have been in for a long, long time for a very long time throughout American history.”

Gen Z makes up about 20% of the total population in the US, but more than half of Gen Z aren't old enough to vote yet.

But experts are already predicting that this generation will want to keep on making its voice heard in the future.

'There is no huge red wave': Michaela Küfner reports

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