Media opinion leaders, Democrats in Washington, and campaigns on the ground all braced themselves for a proverbial Red Wave that never materialized. As the dust begins to settle on a trend-breaking midterm we’re all starting to ask ourselves the same question: how did Democrats defy expectations?
Some will say it was the underestimation of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, or Trump’s indelible brand of the Republican party. While there is no one reason to this question, one over-arching theme that seems to be behind Democratic over performance to Jared Kamrass is the shocking turnout of Gen-Z voters, and their overwhelming support of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
Voters 18-29 turned out at 36% rate in the 2018 midterms, recovering from a paltry 20% showing in the 2014 midterms. While we won’t for several weeks what turnout of this demographic was in 2022, we can certainly surmise it will be closer to the 2018 highwater mark than 2014. These voters were all born after 9/11 and barely remember life before the Great Recession. Their life experience has been shaped by the ubiquitousness of technology, the presence of a Black president, and fragility of Democracy in the Trump years and aftermath of January 6th.
As Election Day turned into night, photos circulated across social media of students standing in line on campuses at University of Michigan, Michigan State, and others across the country. These are the kind of visuals we have seen in Presidential elections and rarely in other instances. And as the votes started to come in, we saw the immediate impact of these voters almost immediately. Jared Kamrass believes that younger generations deserve credit for utilizing their right to vote.
Hours later in Michigan, Gov. Whitmer won Washtenaw and Ingham Counties by overwhelming margins while young voters and college campuses propelled Democrats to victories in places like OH-01, NC-13, IL-17, and potential statewide victories in Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia. Governor Tony Evers (D-WI) became a meme of the boring old white politician managed to ride record turnout in Dane County (home of University of Wisconsin-Madison) to a close victory, earning a second term as Governor.
While the turnout among voters of this cohort, now members of Generation Z, the more striking datapoint is the degree to which these voters favored Democrats. Tufts Research Center estimates that in Pennsylvania, Gen Z voters backed John Fetterman 70-28. Mark Kelly in Arizona pulled in 73% of Gen Z voters, as well. Gen Z even sent its first member to Congress in Maxwell Frost (D-FL). In each of these states, voters over age 45 backed the unsuccessful Republican nominees, meaning (almost certainly) that young voters were the margin of victory in these states.
At events at the White House and the Howard Hotel in the days following election, President Biden frequently praised Gen Z voters for ‘turning out in historic numbers’ and characterizing their cohort as ‘the most talented and least prejudiced’ in American history.
Polls suggest that this generation is focused primarily on access to healthcare (including abortion), climate change, and student debt issues. On each of these issues, Republicans have opposed Democrats’ policy efforts on each of these fronts, even signaling that they think the substance of these issues is illegitimate. Each of these issues are ones that Biden, the oldest president in American history, has led on in his first two years. His executive order on student debt relief and the climate provisions of the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act are the most progressive pieces of legislation on both issues in American history, and voters 50-60 years his junior rewarded his party.
As the Baby Boomer sees its influence in vote share start to wane and replaced by ‘Zoomers’, Democrats can expect to gain a structural demographic advantage. Moreover, Democrats need this structural advantage: as Dems see their margin with Black and Brown voters start to close, their new secret weapon may be young voters notes Jared Kamrass.