National headlines the morning after the 2022 midterm elections all pointed to one clear winner: the youth vote. It’s true, our country has young voters to thank for preventing a “red wave” from sweeping our nation this year. In several close races decided by a few percentage points, the overwhelming Democratic support from voters ages 18-29 secured victories for progressives across the country in key battleground states.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), young people preferred Democrats to Republicans by a 28-point margin, with young people ages 18-29 being the only age group in which a strong majority supported Democrats. Fueled by the youth vote, Democrats flipped the Senate seat in Pennsylvania and won three important governorships in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This didn’t happen overnight.
Organizations like NextGen America have been building the infrastructure to deliver historical youth voter participation for almost a decade, laying the groundwork and strengthening the foundation that has both created and sustained this level of youth turnout.
This year’s youth voter turnout was powered by NextGen’s intentional multi-million dollar investment, which reached millions of young voters ages 18-35 ahead of November. Our longstanding presence across the country had an outsized impact where it matters most: Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
This cycle, NextGen’s get-out-the-vote efforts sought to modernize and innovate civic engagement through a multi-pronged approach that allowed our target audience to become active participants in building a fully representative democracy. NextGen activated young voters by reflecting their outrage against real threats jeopardizing our collective rights — including access to abortion — and by amplifying their sense of urgency to tackle some of the nation’s biggest problems like economic injustice and climate change.
And our efforts proved decisive in this election, with young people showing up in massive numbers when the rest of the country discounted them. It is clear that if young people didn’t turn out at a historic rate — 27% nationally, the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades — Republicans would have destroyed Democrats this cycle. If you think young people aren’t paying attention to democracy, just take a look at the election results.
Early reporting from CIRCLE shows that in the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, where progressive Democrat John Fetterman won by a slim margin, youth ages 18-29 preferred Fetterman by 70%, with voters over 45 preferring Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz.
In Wisconsin’s governor election, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers won re-election by a three-point margin: 51% to 48%. Young voters also gave Evers support by extraordinary margins: 70% compared to 28% for Republican challenger Tim Michels. And in Michigan, young voters supported Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) by 62% to propel her to victory over challenger and MAGA Republican Tudor Dixon.
What we can see now is that the historic levels of youth turnout we saw in 2018 and 2020 were not just flukes, but a movement. Once is a fluke. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern.
Since 2016 — the first election Gen-Z could vote in — they’ve bucked political trends. They are using their electoral power to show that they’re pissed off, they’re fired up and they’re ready to build a county that reflects all of us.
At NextGen, we want to live in a country where we’re able to make our own health care choices about having children; where people of every race, gender and background have access to quality educational and economic opportunity; where we can all feel safe and valued; where our friends who came here as immigrant children have a path to citizenship and where every citizen is encouraged to cast a vote and have it count. And when it comes to addressing climate change, the world itself is truly at stake, calling out for us to take action.
We are so proud that we’ve elected leaders across the country this cycle who are serious about protecting democracy and with whom we can engage about the issues we care about. Heading into 2024, it is more important than ever to recognize the full power of the youth vote and the potential they have to save our democracy.
Young voters showed up for the sake of our country this cycle, and we must continue investing and engaging with them so that we can grow their numbers and power moving forward. They should give us hope for the nation’s future — and for ours. We won by believing in the power and potential of the next generation.
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is the president and executive director of NextGen America.
This piece is part of Democracy Docket’s How We Won series, which features op-eds from candidates and organizations that answer the question: How did you win in the 2022 midterm elections and what does this victory mean for democracy?