Election 2022: Youth voters made the difference

Written November 7, 2022

Updated December 16, 2022

Young voters show support for progressive legislation (Photo/Tim Pierce)

This November, Americans voted on an election that will shape the next two years of American politics. Every seat in the House of Representatives was up for grabs, as well as 35 out of 50 seats in the Senate. Most polls showed that Republicans were heavily favored to win the House, and slightly favored to win the Senate. Such a power shift would’ve meant a halt to all Democratic legislation, a refusal to confirm any federal judges, and further weaponizing of the debt ceiling—the same tactic that forced Obama to make $2.1 trillion dollars’ worth of concessions in 2011. However, despite predictions of a ‘red wave,’ Republicans lost the Senate and only eked out a small majority in the House. This shift is partially attributed to a higher-than-usual turnout of youth voters, indicating a looming threat to the current GOP.

For young people, the election had many far-reaching implications, including the hotly debated topic of student debt cancellation. President Joe Biden’s executive order, which is already imperiled by the courts, would almost certainly be killed by a Republican legislature. For many, this election meant the difference between getting a chance to start their lives proper—being freed up to afford a mortgage, children, or retirement savings—and being saddled with debt for the next chunk of their lives.

Outside of debt, students had good reason to consider what their futures would look like after this election. With many GOP members touting the “Big Lie” of a stolen election, voting rights themselves have been under fire, as many sought to discredit and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Alongside this, the Republican House will likely dissolve the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack, stunting any consequences for the political attack that shook the nation. This volatile combination of condoning insurrection, stripping away voting rights, and casting doubt on the democratic process may have galvanized voters who were otherwise neutral—high-profile election deniers such as Kari Lake, Tim Michels, and Doug Mastriano all faced electoral defeats, indicating pushback against anti-democratic rhetoric.

Above all this, there is one issue that has young voters up in arms more than any other. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, the bodily autonomy of millions of Americans has been brought into question. For young women in conservative states, access to reproductive healthcare has been jeopardized, leading to dangerous ectopic pregnancies, forced births, and children as young as 10 being pressured to carry to term. Many have made it clear that they refuse to return to the era of dangerous “back-alley” abortions—an attitude that may have carried the election.

“Exit polls indicate that a large number of young voters are concerned about abortion and abortion rights, likely as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Edward Hunt, assistant professor of political science at Regis College. “The Tisch College of Civic Life, which tracks young voters, described the election as ‘the abortion election.’”

Historically, young people have been least likely to vote in elections, with only 50% of 18 to 29-year-old voters turning out in 2020, according to a Tufts University study. As Regis College senior H.E. said, “A lot of people our age have really strong opinions and really great voices, but, when it comes to actually making it to the polls, sometimes that’s where we fall a little bit short.”

At Regis College, responses from students were mixed—some indicated a desire to vote, but couldn’t find the time: “I do care but I’m just pretty busy,” said sophomore J.G. “It’s a time thing, but I want to,” echoed senior Z.L.

“There’s an election tomorrow? What for?” asked a few passersby.

Despite some lukewarm responses, many other students were excited to have their voices heard. Where one said, “I didn’t think about it, honestly,” another said, “Everyone needs to be informed for democracy to work. Get up and vote!”

Among those who voted, there was increased encouragement for other students to visit the polls. “You should definitely vote because it’s like your voice is being heard,” said sophomore L.D. “They should vote, and vote for what they believe in,” said freshman T.C.

The effect of these passionate youth voters can be seen in key races across the country, particularly for John Fetterman, Raphael Warnock, and Tony Evers. “Progressive candidates do better when young people turn out to vote in larger numbers,” said Hunt. “Young voters were pivotal in key elections in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.”

Whether the increase in youth voters is the beginning of a larger trend remains to be seen—as Hunt said, the 2022 election is “both an outlier and a trend.” In one sense, the high youth turnout may be seen as an unusual outlier, being the second highest for a midterm election in the past thirty years. However, as Hunt pointed out, “we are seeing young people becoming increasingly involved in elections.” Rather than being an outlier, this election may be an indication of broader political activism from young people.

If the results of the 2022 election demonstrate anything, it’s the fact that youth voters really can make a difference—the more student voters see their own influence, the more galvanized they may be to vote in the future.

“Everyone’s vote really matters when it all comes down to it. Everyone’s part of a statistic,” said Z.L.

Anyone still skeptical may consider those who are disenfranchised—the ones who need a win the most.

“Even if there’s not an issue that you care about for you specifically, think of all the people who don’t have a voice right now,” said H.E. “Use your vote to give them a voice.”

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