The 2018 Midterms Saw Big Youth Voter Turnout, but There's Still Room for Growth
An estimated 31% of eligible voters age 18 to 29 actually voted.
By: Linley Sanders
November 10, 2018
Published on Teen Vogue
Young Americans have been ramping up political engagement, but there is a long way to go until the nation’s second-largest voting base exceeds the voter turnout rates of older Americans, based on day-after turnout estimates from the 2018 midterm election.
An estimated 31% of eligible people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2018 midterms, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). This exceeds participation from the same age group in the 2014 midterms by about 10 percentage points but is still far below the number that voted in the 2016 presidential election, when 51% of eligible millennial voters cast a ballot.
The turnout difference between 2016 and 2018 is unsurprising since midterm-election turnout is almost always eclipsed by presidential years, according to the United States Election Project, a election-data-focused website. The high-profile White House battles draw engagement in other down-ballot races, and overall interest leads more people to emphasize the importance of voting. But with 31% participating in 2018, a majority of eligible voters still didn’t participate.
If the youth vote increased by about 10 percentage points in 2018, as CIRCLE anticipates it will in the final tally, the organization said that would be “the highest level of participation [in midterm elections] among youth in the past quarter-century.” That rate of expansion would mean millions more young Americans voted this year, almost certainly influencing key races with tight victory margins, helping elect a historic 100 women to Congress and LGBTQ+ candidates to office.
“A youth wave is sweeping this nation,” Debra Hauser, the president for nonprofit Advocates for Youth, said in a statement. “Young people are outraged by politicians whose rhetoric and actions embolden extremist bigots. They don’t accept this world of racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism, nor the violence and harm that goes along with it. In record numbers, they voted for change.”
But while millennials are quickly becoming the largest eligible voting generation, according to the Pew Research Center, they do not yet vote consistently enough to be the most influential voting age bracket. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016, the lowest percentages of registered and active voters are found among young people. Traditionally, America’s voter participation tends to increase with age, with 65-to-74-year-olds making up the most consistent and active group of voters in the U.S., according to U.S. Census data. Meanwhile, Gen Z is just starting to come of voting age; 7 million Gen Z voters were eligible to vote in 2016, according to Pew.
Youth turnout exceeded the 31% national average in states with contentious political fights, like Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin, according to estimates from CIRCLE. In these high-profile regions of the country, the organization maintains that the turnout of America’s liberal-leaning youth made all the difference. In Wisconsin, for instance, Republican governor Scott Walker was narrowly ousted by Democrat Tony Evers, a candidate who led Walker with young people, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
In Georgia, another spot where CIRCLE believes youth turnout was above average, Republican Brian Kemp leads Democrat Stacey Abrams in the state’s close gubernatorial race, with Libertarian Ted Metz pulling less than 1 percent of the vote. The margin between Kemp and Abrams remains close enough that Abrams has refused to concede. Georgia has a unique rule that if a candidate is unable to secure 50% of the vote, then the top two candidates advance to a runoff election in December. During a speech, Abrams said, "Votes remain to be counted; there are voices that remain to be heard.... We believe our chance for a stronger Georgia is within reach."