With headlines about abortion, mass shootings, the climate crisis, and economic woes virtually inescapable, Gen Z and young Millennials are more engaged with politics than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations ever were at their age.
But a number of new indicators, related to political frustrations and disengagement from the system suggest many of those young, politically-engaged Americans still may not vote in this year’s midterm elections, which will dictate whether Democrats or Republicans control Washington’s priorities for the next two years – and possibly beyond.
Here are five of those indicators:
1) President Biden’s Meager Approvals Among Young Voters
A New York Times/Siena College poll, conducted July 5-7, found the president’s approval ratings were lowest among registered voters under 30. LX News has tracked the growing frustrations of Gen Z and Millennial voters — and eroding support for President Biden — since the 2020 election. No group of voters has expressed more lost faith in the President than those between 18 and 30 years old. Polls indicate that dissatisfaction is largely connected to expectations for progressive reforms going unfulfilled.
That same New York Times/Siena College poll found that a whopping 94% of Democratic primary voters under the age of 30 want the party to nominate someone other than Biden as the presidential candidate in 2024. While the poll’s sample size for this voting niche was quite small, producing an approximate margin of error of 14 points, the desire among young Democrats for the incumbent to step down after his term is up is overwhelming.
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However, for as much as young voters may want someone else to win the presidency in 2024, when presented with a hypothetical rematch of the 2020 election, 38% of registered voters under 30 still said they’d vote for Biden again, with only 30% saying they’d vote for former president Trump.
2) Young Voters Threaten to Sit Out 2024, or Cast Protest Votes
While the Times/Siena poll found many older voters also want to see fresh blood in the 2024 race, few voters over the age of 30 indicated they would sit out the presidential election if faced with a Biden/Trump rematch.
However, a whopping 22% of voters under 30 responded to the survey that they would sit out the election if their top choices were Biden and Trump. Another 7% responded that they’d vote for a third-party candidate.
While that 22% mark comes with an 8% margin of error and 2024 is still a long way away, these results may trigger 2016 flashbacks for Hillary Clinton supporters, who saw third-party protest votes — especially among young voters — as one key reason the Democrat lost the election to Donald Trump.
The presidency was ultimately decided by less than 80,000 votes in three key swing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania) – states that Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson combined to pull in more than 550,000 votes between them. However, in 2020, concerns about protest votes never materialized, as third-party candidates pulled in just a fraction of their 2016 voting share.
3) A “Roe Wave” Among Young Voters?
When LX News compared voter enthusiasm from April, before news leaked out of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, to enthusiasm after the court released its final opinion, it found a large spike in midterm enthusiasm among progressive and young voters.
A poll from late June, by The Economist and YouGov, shows more support for abortion rights among young voters than any other generation. The Times/Siena poll also found abortion was tied with the economy as America’s top problem in the minds of voters under 30.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, issues can drive young voters to the polls. In 2018, CIRCLE found young voters — largely motivated by the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. — mobilized and turned out in record numbers. The 28% turnout for voters under the age of 30 in 2018 was double the young adult turnout in the 2014 midterms, according to CIRCLE research.
4) Abortion News may Also Drive Young People to not Vote
More than any other generation, 41% of adults under 30 indicated the Supreme Court’s abortion decision would make them more likely to vote in this fall’s midterms, according to a recent CBS/YouGov poll.
However, 21% of that demographic also said the decision would make them less likely to vote, far more than any other generation.
LX News has tracked young adults’ growing disillusionment with the political system, and how many are disengaging from the major political parties. More now believe their vote doesn’t make a difference (42%) than ever before, according to research from the Harvard Youth Poll. And 36% of adults under 30 now believe “political involvement rarely has tangible results.”
5) Decreases in Youth Voter Registration
A lot fewer teenagers are registering to vote in 2022, compared to 2018's Parkland-inspired wave, according to CIRCLE. That means a large portion of the more than 8 million 18-to-19-year-olds who are eligible to vote in America for the first time may miss out on participating in this year’s election.
When looking at voter registration for adults 18-24, some states — in particular key swing states and some that have introduced automatic voting registration — are seeing higher rates of registration. That includes states like California, where youth turnout was particularly bad in 2021.
But according to CIRCLE, the slow pace in dozens of states is “a call to action for campaigns and organizers” who want to engage young people in the democratic process.