What’s keeping young voters engaged ahead of midterms

Correction: An earlier version of this segment included a short interview that did not include key context. An organizer had discussed the perspective of young Black men, not young voters overall.

Voters under the age of 30 are projected to keep up or break records on turnout during this year’s midterms. That’s according to a newly-released poll of young voters conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Laura Barrón-López reports on what’s motivating young voters this year.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Despite the fact that, as you heard from Lisa earlier, young voters are expected to turn out at a lower percentage rate than other groups, those under the age of 30 are still projected to keep up with or break their own voting records during this year's midterm elections.

    That is according to a newly released poll of young voters conducted by Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

    Our Laura Barrón-López has more on what's motivating the younger cohort this year.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Our national network of young reporters, part of our Student Reporting Labs, asked fellow students why they're politically engaged ahead of the midterm elections.

  • Sarah Youssef, Student:

    It's important for your voice to be heard.

  • Adam Putzer, Student:

    I really want to see our community and our country really focused on gun violence.

  • Vanessa Lule, Student:

    An issue I care about the most is mental health.

  • Alex Sanchez, Student:

    My interest in politics is health care, just making it more accessible for everyone.

  • Moriah Etchison, Student:

    The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade is a major setback in our country.

  • Sophia Fernandez, Student:

    You can't even adopt a child before you're 18, but you can be forced to have one?

  • Juan Olivera, Student:

    I sympathize for the unborn. I do not think that their lives should be in the balance.

  • Bethany Seal, Student:

    I want to be a teacher someday. So I would like to vote for somebody who is pro-education.

  • Grace Winkelman, Student:

    Climate change is the biggest issue that we're facing right now.

  • Josiah Gearhart, Student:

    States should have more power to make decisions for their people. The federal government cannot make the best decisions for everyone.

  • Hailey Taylor, Student:

    I want to make sure that my community is safe for not only me, but also all of my loved ones.

  • Isabel Blackdeer, Student:

    I want to see more leaders that look more like what America looks like, more young and diverse.

  • Patrick Robles, Student:

    I want to make sure that we have candidates in place who support democracy.

  • Nicholas Ambrogi, Student:

    I want older people to know that it's hard to be able to afford the things that you were able to afford in the past.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    In 2020, President Joe Biden won key swing states like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona by narrow margins. Biden's double-digit edge among young voters ages 18 to 29 helped push him over the top.

    This year, Gen Z and millennial voters could again be the difference-makers in races across the country.

    Joining me to discuss is Alan Zhang. He's the student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, a student-led polling group within the university's Institute of Politics.

    Alan, thanks so much for joining us.

    So, to start, what did the recent Harvard poll find about youth voter motivation?

  • Alan Zhang, Harvard Public Opinion Project:

    What we're finding is that young voters are continuing to be motivated to vote at levels that we saw which broke historic turnout records back in 2018 and 2020.

    What we have seen is, young voters wanted a lot of policies from the Biden administration, such as climate actions, such as student loan debt cancellation. Young voters understand that politics is a long game. In fact, I would say that young voters are far more pragmatic than the older generations would give us credit for.

    One of our recent polls found that, by a 2-1 margin, young voters preferred politicians to meet in the middle and compromise, rather than pursue their own policy priorities, at the expense of compromise.

    And so what we're seeing is, young people understand how the political process works. And they're willing to engage and they're motivated to engage because they are seeing tangible results now.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And those that are motivated to engage, by a near 2-1 margin, again, likely voters prefer Democratic control of Congress, 57 percent, to 31 percent who prefer Republicans, and 12 percent remain undecided.

    So have Republicans made sizable inroads with millennial and Gen Z voters this election cycle vs. past ones?

  • Alan Zhang:

    No.

    And I think what we have seen is, compared to 2018, the Republican vote share among young likely voters is essentially stagnant. It's hit a ceiling at around 30 percent. And one of the reasons this might be is because the policies of the Biden administration, again, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, such as student loan debt cancellation, such as the bipartisan gun law passed over the summer, are overwhelmingly popular with young voters.

    And what Republicans stand for, it simply isn't aligned with the values of young voters. Now, I will mention that young people, young Americans, young voters vote based on values. And we see issues such as school choice, school voucher programs, which cut across partisan lines and have broad support among young voters.

    The problem is, the issues that Republicans are running on, the kinds of values they're running on, aren't connecting with young voters. They're hitting kind of a ceiling.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    On other issues affecting young voters, my colleague Judy Woodruff recently was in Pennsylvania and spoke to Drake Smith, a sophomore at Lincoln University, and he cited Roe v. Wade as a motivating factor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so a lot is on the line.

  • Drake Smith, Lincoln University:

    Everything's on the line, really. I mean, it's kind of played out, kind of cliche. Each election is the most important election of your lifetime. But it is, because, as we have seen, you're only six months away from them taking everything away, right?

    Ten years ago, you told me Roe v. Wade would have got stripped away, I would have said, what are you talking about? It's been here, it's on the books since the '70s. But here we are in 2022, no Roe v. Wade.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Did young voters raise abortion access in the Harvard poll?

  • Alan Zhang:

    Absolutely.

    For young voters, abortion is one of the top issues, especially for young Democrats. And we feel it might be affecting the vote choice as well. Democrats increased the vote margin among young female voters by nine points compared to the spring. And we see that they have made inroads.

    One of the reasons that might be is because young voters are concerned that their rights might be taken away. What he said was correct, in the eyes of young voters. We're seeing a succession of political crisis after crisis. Young people see our democracy, and they see that it is failing. They see that it is in trouble. And they see that their basic rights are being threatened.

    So — and one of those is the right to the — the choice for an abortion.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Alan, we can't talk about young voters without talking about social media.

    President Biden and other politicians have started to use it more frequently to reach young voters. And, recently, the president had TikTok influencers over to talk about policy issues. Are you seeing that also in your research, that young voters get their news through TikTok?

  • Alan Zhang:

    Absolutely.

    The media landscape of today is not the same media landscape that existed 50 years ago, 20 years ago, even last year. Compared to our poll conducted last year, a lot more young Americans now regularly receive political news from TikTok. Our poll which was released just this week has young — about 21 percent of young Americans regularly receiving political news from TikTok.

    Yes, young voters are still getting their news, getting political news from traditional media, such as cable news, such as local TV news, but social media is at an equal standing now. It's in the playing field. And if politicians want to connect with young voters, they will have to enter that arena.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Anxiety also seems to be high among young voters. In the Harvard poll, more than seven and 10. Young Americans, about 72 percent, believe that the rights of others are under attack. And 59 percent believes that their own rights are under attack.

    What exactly is driving that fear?

  • Alan Zhang:

    This fear is rooted in the rights that they have that we have taken for granted for a long time.

    For example, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a lot of young people see that as an attack on their own rights. We also see that young LGBTQ people have even higher rates of feeling that the rights are under attack. They — again, they see this as a threat to democracy. They see this as a threat to our society.

    A lot of the rights that have been the foundation of our society are under threat, in the eyes of young Americans. And this is one of the reasons why young Americans are so politically engaged and why they're continuing to turn out at record numbers in 2018 and 2020 and, again, we expect in 2022.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Alan Zhang, thank you so much for your time.

  • Alan Zhang:

    Of course. Thank you.

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