Do 2018 Midterms Signify Aberration or Pivot in Youth Voter Participation?

Based on many months of polls, youth voter participation is expected to reach historic levels on Tuesday’s election. Enthusiasm in this age group does seem different this cycle. We’re hopeful and anxiously excited by the prospect of historic youth voter turnout and what that might mean for the expression and renewal of democratic institutions.

Our hope extends far beyond any particular partisan interest. One of the last polls of its kind before the election, the Harvard IOP Youth Poll found that, while youth turnout is still forecast to reach or exceed previous records, enthusiasm in older age groups and the Republican Party generally had also ticked up, potentially narrowing the gap in the election results. No matter, we believe that higher levels of voter participation inevitably leads to a fuller representation of the electorate and a healthier democracy overall.

We also believe that youth voter participation is the most important of all. Not just because of this historic gap in which youth voters lag behind older generations. But also because the younger generation is inevitably the ones most affected by major changes to social policy and the political discourse.

While we’re confident that this election cycle will see a much higher, perhaps historic, level of participation, the larger question to our minds is how much staying power this newfound enthusiasm will have. Is it merely a function of today’s historically unpopular President, or it is a signal of a larger change that can be sustained over time into a new normal for the youth vote.


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