‘Young People Saved This Election’ for Democrats, Say Progressives
While control of Congress remained unclear as of Wednesday afternoon, young voters who turned out for Democrats on Tuesday played a key role in blocking a "red wave" that had been anticipated based on previous midterm elections and widely predicted by political pollsters and pundits.
Republicans may still secure narrow majorities in the U.S. House and Senate—enabling them to impede President Joe Biden's agenda for the next two years—but Democrats have won some major congressional and gubernatorial races, and voters backed progressive ballot measures on abortion, forced prison labor, marijuana, Medicaid expansion, and minimum wage.
As ballot-counting continued Wednesday, campaigners, candidates, and political commentators remarked on the significance of young voters—including members of Generation Z (ages 18-25) and Millenials (ages 26-40)—who also helped Biden decisively defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who was reelected, said that "the role of young people in this election cannot be understated."
"Young people saved this election," proclaimed Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement. "Two elections in a row, young people proved that Gen Z is a vital voting bloc that can and will be the bedrock of the Democratic Party."
According to the climate leader, "That's why our leaders must invest in us—from running candidates who fight for the issues that matter most to our generation, to delivering policy at the federal level that make our lives better, to putting money into critical youth organizing efforts that have historically been undervalued."
"Democrats are winning young voters by a significant margin. Imagine what the margins would be if we actually invested in these voters," Prakash continued. "The party thinks they can create a TikTok account and reach young people, but the reality is that they have to intentionally bring us in and deliver for us."
"For us, it's never been just about defeating Donald Trump," she stressed. "We turn out to fight for the issues our generation faces everyday, like the impending climate crisis, protecting our reproductive freedoms, and ending gun violence in our schools. The Democratic Party needs to understand that if we want to win."
Sunrise supported successful Democratic candidates in some closely watched contests, including future U.S. House members Greg Casar of Texas and Summer Lee of Pennsylvania.
The climate movement welcomed Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's defeat of Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, saying in a series of tweets that "young people won this election" and "they did it for clean air and water, to stop a nationwide abortion ban, and to make their lives better."
Though Democrats struggled across Florida on Election Day, progressive 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost won in the state's 10th Congressional District and is now set to be the first member of Gen Z in Congress—a development that Sunrise also celebrated, declaring that "young people are taking over."
Edison Research National Election Pool exit polling shows that 63% of voters ages 18-29 preferred Democratic U.S. House candidates while only 35% backed Republicans. Young voters—particularly those who are Black and Latino—strongly preferred Democrats; party preference was split for the 30-44 age group and older voters preferred GOP candidates.
The polling also reveals that in Wisconsin, voters under age 30 supported Democratic Gov. Tony Evers—who narrowly won reelection over Trump-backed Tim Michels—70% to 30%.
Though Democratic Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes failed to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, young voters backed Fetterman 70% to 28% and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.)—whose race against Republican Herschel Walker is going to a runoff—63% to 36%.
"Don't underestimate the power of a pissed off generation," tweeted NextGen America.
Antonio Arellano, vice president of communications at the youth voter mobilization group, said: "Last night young voters prevented a massive Republican roll back. That's a fact."
"If it wasn't for Gen Z, there would have been a red wave," Olivia Julianna, director of politics and government affairs at Gen Z for Change, similarly said.
"The polling shows that OUR generation voted for Democrats more than any other age group. WE are the reason democracy will stand," she added. "We now have a seat at the table. Time to start listening."
Just before Election Day, The Nation's Mark Hertsgaard spoke with various youth organizers, including Julianna and March for Our Lives co-founder David Hogg, who told him that "even if there are all these boomer pundits out there saying young people aren't going to turn out… the data show that is not the case for our generation."
"In 2018, we saw one of the highest youth turnouts of any nonpresidential midterm in American history. In 2020, we saw the highest youth voter turnout in American history. And young people aren't stopping," the 22-year-old Parkland survivor noted. "Over the past several weeks, March for Our Lives has contacted several hundred thousand voters to help turn out the vote."
"In the past, many young people prior to us felt they had the luxury of not voting, because they didn't see how [voting] could affect them," Hogg added. Now, "gun violence is literally the leading cause of death for young people in our country. The combination of the Parkland shooting, climate change, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and especially, frankly, the election of Donald Trump showed our generation how politics is tangible to us."
While several of Tuesday's races remain too close to call, the 2024 contests—particularly the presidential battle—are already on the minds of many, especially with Trump expected to officially declare his candidacy at his recently raided Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, next week.
"I think that President Biden and the Democratic Party have shown that they are fighting for Gen Z on a lot of different issues and they've shown their ability to deliver," Jack Lobel of the group Voters of Tomorrow told NPR early Tuesday, citing historic investments in climate action and community colleges, student debt cancellation, and marijuana possession pardons.
"We want to see more sustained outreach though—I think that's really how the Democrats keep this momentum going through 2024," said Lobel, who voted for the first time in this election.
As for this cycle, Lobel asserted that "Gen Z is uniquely connected" and "we saw this victory last night because of the work of young organizers."
"We feel empathy for our generation and members of our generation in other states," the New Yorker explained, highlighting his state's support for abortion access. "I voted because… my peers in other states do not have those same rights. I voted because although in New York we have gun violence restrictions that keep us safe, my peers in other states don't have those rights."
"I voted for democracy," he added. "I voted for abortion rights. I voted for our future."
Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
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