The 2014 midterm election saw the lowest young voter turnout in the past 40 years, with a mere 19.9 percent of voters ages 18-29 years old showing up at the polls. Four years later, analysts projected a huge improvement, estimating 40 percent of young voters were set to cast their ballots.
It’s early yet to see complete trends, but preliminary polling information indicates the young crowd is on track to at least beat its previous midterm mark, if not completely demolish past records. What does that mean for the country?
As two millennial voters, here’s our take:
What’s changed since the last midterm election?
Hopkinson: What hasn’t changed? To me, 2014 feels like that enjoyable moment at the beginning of a roller coaster before the abrupt change of tipping over the edge.
President Trump’s election defied polls and came as a shock to many. His tweets and stance on issues like immigration, gun laws and trade have been controversial, to say the least. I’d say that, combined with major events including mass shootings, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and the migrant caravan, voters have been forced to realized their votes could have made a difference.
Sagers: The biggest change I’ve seen is the ability to harness and concentrate emotional outrage. President Obama had controversial moments, as did President Bush. But I sense the reactions to those incidents, especially among young voters, largely bounced around for a bit before dissipating into space.
Somehow the responses to Trump’s election haven’t found an escape hatch. Social media is the likely culprit. Influencers with gross amounts of followers can organize campaigns within minutes, and my generation is particularly susceptible to putting their faith in people who make money with their online presence. Case in point: Taylor Swift’s Oct. 7 Instagram post reportedly inspired 65,000 people to register to vote, according to Vote.org.
Have the two major political parties succeeded in persuading young voters to join their ranks, or has their rhetoric turned away would-be party members?
Hopkinson: The hateful rhetoric hasn’t done either party any favors. Like many millennial voters, I don’t feel that any major party accurately represents what we really care about. Instead of just voting based on party affiliation, the peers I’ve talked to are much more likely to care about candidates’ stances on specific issues.
I’m personally exhausted by the fear-mongering and divisive speech. It only makes me dislike them more. Candidates who genuinely want to bridge that gap and just make things happen are much more appealing. Based on some of the surprises in campaigns around the country, I don’t think I’m alone.
Sagers: I won’t say I’m completely repulsed by political parties … how about mildly disgusted? Since the 2016 election, I’ve felt abandoned by the party I once thought espoused many of my ideals, leaving me in a sort of political twilight zone with no national organization to represent my interests. Conversations with peers tell me I’m not alone.
Here’s the result: Because I don’t see myself in the platforms of either party, I naturally look to individuals on the national level who mirror much of what I believe. I find myself putting far more trust in their isolated behavior than in the general vision of a party. If that trend continues, we could see a fundamental shift in the role a party plays in national politics.
What’s driving younger voters in this election?
Hopkinson: It’s all about the issues that are close to home. Trade and our relations with foreign countries are less of a motivator than what we see every day. Young voters tend to be focused on social issues, so I expect issues like immigration, climate change and health care are at the core of young voter turnout.
Many states had ballot initiatives dealing with these sorts of issues. Health care and immigration were popular platforms for many candidates. Here in Utah, Proposition 2, concerning medical marijuana, and Proposition 3, concerning the expansion of Medicaid, have garnered a lot of attention from millennial voters because they deal with issues that voters can see in their everyday interactions.
I think it’s safe to say that millennial voters are driven by the desire for social change, as opposed to being primarily concerned about the economy or trade deals. Protests on immigration policy, gun laws and women’s rights have only been successful in raising awareness. Now, voters want real change and are manifesting that desire through voting.
Sagers: I peg the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February as the most influential driver this election season. At no point in my life can I remember an event that sparked so much solidarity among young people across the country. High schoolers on the cusp of turning 18 vowed to make their voices heard, and I believe polling stations are seeing the fulfillment of those promises.
I also agree that human issues resonate more with my cohort than the wonky aspects of the economy, foreign relations or military action overseas. As my wife and I were researching our ballots together, she turned and said, “I just want to know where this person stands on immigration.”
If the 2018 election is an indication of new trends, what will be the impact on future policy and the direction of the country?Comment on this story
Hopkinson: This could very well be a turning point. Nobody wants to inherit a country that is crippled by bad policy, full of hate and past the point of no return. I think, for many young voters, this is their chance to stop that from happening. I don’t think this will be a one-hit-wonder for young voter turnout.
By all indication, millennials have 2020 vision.
Sagers: I’m cautiously optimistic this election heralds better things to come. But should a less incendiary president take the White House in 2020, I suspect midterm turnout among young voters will dip again. My hope is people our age will realize the value of their vote and have the foresight to see they will inherit the consequences of the electoral decisions they make today.