Younger voters continued to outstrip turnout by boomers and seniors in 2018

Brittany Shepherd
National Politics Reporter

Young voters went to the polls in record numbers in the 2018 midterm elections, outpacing older generations, according to new Census Bureau data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. Together with Generation X, they outvoted baby boomers and seniors, continuing a trend that began in 2016.

While several demographic blocs set new voting records, millennial turnout saw the most significant rise: from 22 percent participation in the previous midterms to 42 percent. Not far behind were the newly eligible Generation Z-ers, 30 percent of whom turned out to vote in their first national elections. Together, they cast 30.6 million votes, a quarter of the midterm totals. Combined with engagement from Generation X, voters ages 18 to 53 cast 62.2 million ballots last November, surpassing voters born before 1964, who cast 60.1 million votes.

This uptick comes after increased efforts by organizations such as voter registration group HeadCount as well as Tom Steyer’s PAC NextGen America, whose youth-vote focused arm NextGen Rising funneled $33 million into voter registration, digital advertising and campus programs to get millennials and Gen Z-ers to the polls for progressive candidates. The increasing influence of young voters is beginning to be represented in Congress itself; 20 of the 91 freshman members elected last November are millennials, 14 of whom are Democrats.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., at a rally at the U.S. Capitol in February. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

The influence of the nation’s youngest voters is predicted to grow. Gen Z-ers — who cast 4.5 million midterm votes — are on track to make up 10 percent of eligible voters in the 2020 presidential election, comprising a group more racially and ethnically diverse than their forerunners. Millennials roughly add another 27 percent of voting power — together, they’ll make up a whopping 37 percent of the 2020 electorate.

The 23 Democratic candidates and counting have a serious leg up in the race to curry favor with Gen Z. Data suggests that these post-millennials, who are largely concerned with racial equity, climate change and gun regulation, swing heavily to the left. In fact, 82 percent identify as a Democrat or someone who leans Democrat. And establishment Republicans may have difficulty reaching their own young base, as the same study indicates that GOP Gen Z-ers split from older members of their party, especially regarding racial discrimination.

But how will presidential campaigns repackage their messaging and turnout strategies to reach the increasingly engaged and tech-savvy generation? As reported previously by Yahoo News, some campaigns are considering tapping social media influencers as surrogate messengers who can communicate in perhaps more authentic ways than candidates themselves.

“Young people vote when their issues are on the line,” HeadCount’s Aaron Ghitelman told the Outline prior to the midterms.When politics directly impact the lives of young Americans, we vote.”

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