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Young Americans Appear More Determined Than Ever to Vote in the Midterms


WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24:  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg speaks during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
David Hogg speaks during the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The kids are gonna vote in record numbers. Or at least they say they are going to. That’s the big takeaway from a new poll out Tuesday from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, which found that a whopping 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they will “definitely” vote this November. That’s a marked increase from the past two midterm elections: In 2014, just 23 percent of those under 30 said they would definitely vote. In 2010, it was 31 percent.

“This generation of young Americans is as engaged as we have ever seen them in a midterm election cycle,” John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director, said in statement accompanying the new report. “The concern they have voiced for many years about the direction of the country is being channeled into a movement that will extend to the midterms elections and beyond.”

That concern seems to be focused largely—and increasingly—on a GOP that controls the White House, the Senate, and the House. A majority of self-identified Democrats (51 percent) said they will definitely vote this fall, a 9-point jump from November 2017, and a significantly larger share than the 36 percent of self-identified Republicans who said the same this time.
That’s also a reversal from where things stood at this point in the previous two midterms, both of which occurred while a Democrat occupied the Oval Office: In 2014, 28 percent of young Democrats and 31 percent of young Republicans said they’d definitely vote, and in 2010, those numbers stood at 35 percent and 41 percent, respectively. Democrats also have a huge lead among likely voters. Sixty-nine percent of likely voters said they prefer Democrats, compared to just 28 percent who prefer Republicans. That amounts to a 41-point advantage, up from a 32-point edge last November.

All of that is obviously good news for a minority party trying to recapture the House and possibly even the Senate this fall. But the open question is whether the teens and twenty-somethings will actually show up to the polls in droves. Historically, they haven’t turned out at nearly the rate they’re now promising to.

According to the Election Voting Project, an election-info clearinghouse run by University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald, the midterm turnout rate among those under 30 has averaged about 23 percent since 2002. And even in the past two midterm wave elections, that number hasn’t come close to 30. Turnout among young voters was 24 percent in 2010—considerably lower than the 31 percent who told Harvard they would definitely vote that year. It was 25.5 percent in 2006, when Democrats won control of both chambers during George W. Bush’s second term.

Democrats shouldn’t bank on the Harvard numbers, but there’s reason for them to hope. Four years ago, 23 percent of respondents told the pollsters they’d definitely vote, and then 20 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out and did that fall. This year, high school kids from Parkland have emerged as grassroots leaders on the left, and they made voter registration a major theme of last month’s March For Our Lives demonstrations. Likewise, more established groups like Tom Steyer’s NextGen America have become near-constant presences on college campuses across the country. None of that ensures young voters will live up to their own expectations. But there’s reason to think they’ll turn out in greater numbers than they have before.

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