The “Youth Vote” & the Midterms: What Happened?

Historically, voter turnout for midterm elections is disappointing at best (ie. in 2014: a very disheartening 36.4%). But the political energy around and leading up to the 2018 midterms, widely considered a watershed moment, pointed to a change in voter trends. And on November 6th, as predicted, Americans across the nation voted in record-breaking numbers.

According to the Associated Press, “an estimated 113 million Americans went to the polls, the highest total for a non-presidential election in U.S. history and the highest voter participation rate in a midterm election in at least 50 years.” Also momentous, this surge led to a new diversity in our representatives: for the first time in 240 years, the House of Representatives will include more than 100 women. Also elected: the first Muslim congresswoman, the first openly gay male governor, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

These results have been attributed, in part, to highly energized voting blocks including America’s youth. Young people ages 18 to 29 are the country’s second largest voting block, yet historically represent the lowest percentages of registered and active voters. This last election, however, saw 31% participation among young voters, exceeding the 2014 midterm rate by 10 percentage points- a significant increase.  While this doesn’t come close to the 51% participation in the 2016 election, the difference in turnout is not surprising in a non-presidential year.

Still, a 31% turnout rate means a vast majority of young people stayed home on November 6th. So, why don’t young people vote? There are a multitude of theories, from a lack of awareness to systematic hurdles to a deepening disenchantment with the political process. SLP – with our goal of full participation – is working to change that. During our in-school residencies and after-school programs, students ask and answer critical questions about the democratic process: who are the stakeholders and the decision-makers? What are the avenues of change? And what are the ingredients of effective persuasion?  Research consistently shows that children and teens who engage in service learning are more likely to become active citizens as adults- especially by voting.

Did you vote in the midterms? Tell us about your experience, voting or not, in the comments section below.