Sydney Kincart worked at the Daily Utah Chronicle from fall 2020 to spring 2022. In this story, she speaks in her role as a student ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Foundation and a young political science student.
In the 2022 midterm elections, 27% of young people (18-29 years old) voted, likely the second-highest youth turnout for a midterm election in the past 30 years, according to an initial estimate from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Tufts University, also known as CIRCLE. The turnout is only second after the 2018 midterm elections, when 31% of young people eligible to vote cast their ballots.
First data also suggests that young voters played a key role in maintaining Democratic control of the Senate and winning other midterm elections.
Data from The Challenge of Democracy All In Campus, which aims to increase many types of civic engagement among students, will be released in the coming months. In 2020, 57.9% of eligible U students voted in the elections. That’s about 8% lower than the average 2020 vote rate of all the institutions they track this data for.
In Utah in particular, it is difficult for organizations like CIRCLE that are not government entities or political parties to obtain accurate data on youth voter turnout due to two laws passed in 2018, SB 74 and HB 218. These laws allow voters to opt out of publicly posting their voter registration data.
Because of this, in 2020 CIRCLE was unable to produce an estimate for Utah, which will also be the case for 2022, according to Kelly Beadle, impact and outreach manager for CIRCLE.
“We suspect that young people are more affected and underrepresented [by this] because it’s on the voter registration form, which is filled out when moving or registering for the first time — something younger people do more often than older people,” Beadle said.
Sydney Kincart, a political science student at U, said she was not surprised by the high turnout in this year’s election.
“I feel like this election is a little weird because we finally come out of COVID and then with Roe knocked down…it’s [also] a post-Trump election,” said Kincart, who serves as a student ambassador for The Andrew Goodman Foundation, a national group working to increase youth voter turnout. “There were just a few factors that we didn’t like to see come into play, so I think that affected those mid-games.”
On the other hand, Kincart explained that the two elections she and many people her age remember most clearly, 2016 and 2020, can provide a lot of context for how college voters may feel overall.
“I wasn’t excited about either candidate and a lot of young people weren’t particularly crazy about either candidate,” she said. “When the only people on the ballot are old people who you think are totally unrelated…why [would] do you feel pressured to vote for them if they don’t even prioritize the issues you care about? »
Kincart said she thinks it’s possible this upward trend in youth voter turnout will continue. “For so long there were so many obstacles and barriers, and for so long it was pretty dark,” she said. “But with this election, I think it shows that Gen Z is making changes.”
In the elections, Maxwell Frost was elected as the first Gen Z member of Congress to represent Florida’s 10th congressional district, which Kincart says is promising and gives her hope for the future.
Low youth voter turnout historically
Dr. John Holbein, co-author of the 2020 book, “Making young voters: converting civic attitude into civic actionfound that in 2016, 90% of young voters said they were interested in politics, but only 43% of them actually voted in elections. According to CIRCLE, this number was 50% in 2020 (CIRCLE calculated that 39% of young voters voted in 2016).
Holbein, also an associate professor of public policy, politics and education at the University of Virginia, said people should be excited about higher rates of youth participation, but noted that it’s important to dampen that enthusiasm somewhat, because many of the structural things that stop young people from voting still haven’t changed.
“We still find young people going through the same civics programs, navigating the same voting systems, with some changes being the exception rather than the rule,” Holbein said. “We still see that young people have a lot of obstacles standing in their way.”
Holbein said he thinks there are two main reasons young voters historically don’t always follow through with their political interest.
“[First], young people find the electoral system daunting, intimidating and overwhelming,” Holbein said. He added that one of the most important things he and his co-author have found in the process of writing this book is that when states make it easier to register to vote, it inspires young people to pursue more often their political interests.
“When they allow things like same-day registration or registering to vote preemptively online, those things really help young people overcome that kind of gap between wanting to participate and actually performing their participation,” he said.
From 2022, 22 States and Washington, D.C., including Utah, have implemented same-day voter registration. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost all electoral jurisdictions of the country to expand access and make voting easier and safer, including the inclusion of 24-hour early voting sites and increased mail-in voting options.
James Curry, a professor of political science at U, said mail-in voting is really good at getting people to vote and has been very effective in 2020, but it’s not as convenient for young people. “[Young people] are more transient, so they move around so if you don’t update your voter registration with a new address, it gets sent to the wrong place,” Curry said.
The second reason, Holbein said, is that young people, especially students, are going through a particularly busy and less stable time in their lives. “They tend to move around a lot and that leads to the need to re-register and find a new polling station,” Holbein said. “Their lives are just in a tumultuous time, they might move to go to school and get familiar with the area.”
Curry said another factor in low youth voter turnout is the limited amount of civic education being taught across the country, which he says doesn’t spend enough time explaining government to young people. , what it does and why it matters.
“Civic education should be something we start teaching in elementary school,” Curry said. “That doesn’t mean you have to talk the bad side of politics to your first-graders, but you can teach them things like ‘what’s the use of government? What is a democracy? Why are we participating? How it works ? »
If schools taught this year after year, Curry thinks it could have a huge long-term impact as these kids grow up. “If we want to have citizen citizens, then [there] must focus on educating our children,” he said. “And it’s not just a Utah problem – it’s a national problem.”
Kincart agreed that civics classes could focus more on teaching students about the voting process and how to engage more civically with their communities, but noted that’s a very fine line. to walk in the current very politicized K-12 system.
“Just with book bans and people not being able to read their IDs,” she said. “I would tire of giving teachers these responsibilities or accepting that teachers encourage this kind of activism and engagement, because I am really worried about how it would be received by others.
Kincart said she doesn’t think the reason young voters don’t turn out is simply political apathy, which aligns with Holbein’s main point in her book that young voters not interested in politics is not the problem.
“I think there’s a lot of political disillusionment with our generation…people our age have all been through the Trump administration [as teenagers].”
Although young voters may struggle to get to the polls, Kincart said young people are being civically engaged in many other ways, such as organizing and attending protests, promoting social media campaigns and writing to elected officials. She added that she remembers being amazed as a high school student by all the movements that young people organized and participated in.
“It was so cool and I think there was like a huge sense of community around it,” she said.
Curry said that at least anecdotally, it seems to him that young people are more engaged in organizing and protests than ever before, but he noted that young people have always been more inclined to take political action in the form of protest.
“What I always say is that all ways to participate are good. Voting, donating, volunteering, organizing, protesting, reaching out to your elected officials…but don’t just do one of them, do as many of those things as you can,” Curry said.
Social media, Kincart said, can be an incredibly impactful tool for educating young people about different social issues, although some use it to make a half-hearted attempt to post about an issue once and go no further than that.
“It’s something a lot of people can participate in,” she says. “It’s a way to start the conversation, ignite passion and generate interest. And I think that can lead to involvement in getting people to register to vote, getting people to register to attend protests, or getting people to do like a letter-writing campaign or to email their legislators.
Holbein said another factor in declining youth turnout, particularly in midterm elections, is who political campaigns choose to contact, who tends to be who they think the voters are most likely to be. easier to vote.
“And the fringe voters, the people who maybe could be pushed by the mail or a phone call or a text message, tend not to look like young people,” Holbein said. “To be honest, they see youth mobilization as too gargantuan a task.”