For decades, the narrative has been the same: Young people don’t vote.
But in the 2018 midterms, a record-high 36% of all eligible voters ages 18-29 cast ballots in that election — up from the approximately 25% in past midterm cycles, according to an analysis of Census Current Population Survey Voting Supplements from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.
And in the 2020 presidential election, young-voter turnout soared to 54%, an increase from around 45% in earlier presidential contests. That was another record peak.
Experts believe that level of youth participation will carry over to November’s midterms, with polls showing voters aged 18-29 are almost as enthusiastic as they were in 2018.
“We’ve heard this narrative that young people are unmotivated and that young people aren’t that interested in turning out,” said Alan Zhang, a junior at Harvard College and student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project. “But when you turn to the actual data, it completely rebuts these theories.”
“Voting is habit forming,” added Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler, a senior researcher who works on youth voting with CIRCLE. “Once you vote once, it becomes much easier to vote for the rest of your life.”
Harvard’s Youth Poll found last spring that 36% of voters ages 18-29 said they will “definitely” voting in the upcoming midterms — just short of the 37% who said the same thing in the spring of 2018.
In NBC News’ own polling, voters 18-34 expressing high interest in the upcoming midterms rivals what the poll showed in 2018. And an October New York Times/Siena College poll showed that just 29% of voters aged 18-29 were “almost certain to vote,” while another 39% said they were “very likely.”
“Young Americans, even though they are pessimistic, are not turning away from politics,” said Kate Gundersen, a senior at Harvard who works with the Youth Poll.
National groups are taking note of this data and have begun to pour money into activating young voters. Vote.org recently announced a $10 million investment to reach young voters on digital platforms, while groups like NextGen America have hired hundreds of field organizers to build infrastructure on campuses and in high schools to reach young voters directly.
“We’re seeing a really high amount of engagement,” said Andrea Hailey, the president of Vote.org. “I think that engagement is going to transition into young people showing up at the ballot box.”