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Friday, June 21, 2024
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anna gephart

Opinion: America, don’t ignore the youth vote

Young people showed up at the polls and changed the game in American politics

Headline after headline covering the midterm election ask the same question: what happened to the red wave? The answer is young voters.

Exit polling data from the Washington Post for the 2022 midterm elections shows that 63 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 years old voted Democrat. Young voters were instrumental in key battleground states, with 18- to 29-year-olds in Arizona voting for Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly at 76 percent, in Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman at 70 percent and in Nevada Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto at 64 percent, leading the Senate to Democratic control, according to CNN exit polling data. 

The Republican response has been less than supportive of young voter mobilization. Brigitte Gabriel, a prominent conservative figure and founder of ACT for America, which is listed as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, called for the voting age to be raised to 21 years old on Twitter. Fox News reporter, Jesse Watters, called the new generation “totally brainwashed,” but the young generation has something else to say about our turnout. 

Many of us have grown up surrounded by self-interested politics. We have seen how policy decisions have hurt our environment. We have seen how policy decisions are not supporting those with the most need. We have seen people’s struggles because of choices politicians have made. We are angry at the state of our government, and now, we are taking our anger to the polls. 

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University has found in its polling that 27 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 voted in this election, making this the second highest youth voter turnout in the last three decades. This is a generation looking to make and change history, and there are even more youth in this generation who aren't old enough to vote yet. 

Many Democratic leaders have also taken notice of the importance of the Gen Z vote, and many are taking a different approach to their conservative counterparts. Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate turned Governor-elect Josh Shapiro tweeted on Nov. 12, 2022, “Thank you, Gen Z. You turned out — not only in our state — but across the country.” President Joe Biden, in a press conference on Nov. 9, 2022, said, “I especially want to thank the young people of this nation, who — I’m told; I haven’t seen the numbers — voted in historic numbers again and — just as they did two years ago. They voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and the student debt relief.”

The youth vote has made an impression on American politics this past November, and it will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. We demand not only a seat at the table, but meaningful inclusion at a table that is pressing for change. 

American political parties are at a crossroads here; they have the option to attack youth voters and ignore our demands for change or recognize our growing importance in elections and listen to our concerns and ideas. I hope this midterm election is a lesson to politicians who ignore the voice of the young, and I hope it shows those to whom we have given power that we have our own power and we are not afraid to use it. 

Anna Gephart is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle. This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Nina Heller. Copy editing by Isabelle Kravis, Leta Lattin, Natasha LaChac and Sarah Clayton.

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