May 20, 2018; New York Times
“When young people are thinking about their activism and voting at the same time, that’s actually something that hasn’t happened for the last eight years,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts, which studies political engagement of young Americans. “They are usually focusing on direct impact, and there is skepticism around ‘why should we vote.’ That sentiment is considerably less prominent. That gives me hope that this is actually an opportunity.”
People in their teens and twenties are registering to vote at much higher than usual rates in key states like Florida and Arizona, reports the New York Times, relating this phenomenon to the anger and political organizing that followed the Parkland school shootings. This, they speculate, could help shape the outcome of the midterm elections.
Even Republican pollsters acknowledge that possibility. “The shooting at Parkland high school was the tipping point for these kids,” says Christine Matthews. “The bravery and activism of the Parkland kids ignited their peers across the country, and these newly minted 18-year-old voters are already motivated. The school shooting in Texas surely adds to their resolve but, honestly, they didn’t need any more motivation.”
The New York Times writes that:
Voter data for March and April show that young registrants represented a higher portion of new voters in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other states. In Florida, voters under 26 jumped from less than 20 percent of new registrants in January and February to nearly 30 percent by March, the month of the gun control rallies. That ticked down to about 25 percent in April, as the demonstrations subsided, but registration of young voters remained above the pace set before 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In North Carolina, voters under 25 represented around 30 percent of new registrations in January and February; in March and April, they were around 40 percent.
In Pennsylvania, voter registrations across age groups increased sharply in March and April before the primary last week, but registrations of young voters increased the fastest, jumping to 45 percent in March and more than half in April, from fewer than 40 percent of voters in January and February.
A poll of younger voters performed by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics found that increasing numbers of young people believe that their involvement will make a difference. This, says John Della Volpe, director of the Institute, bodes well for voter turnout: “What I have seen is what I am calling a once-in-a-generation attitudinal shift about the efficacy of participating in the political process. I am optimistic that the increasing interest we have tracked in politics will likely lead to increased participation in the midterms.”
Della Volpe has specialized in polling younger voters for nearly two decades.
“Also, just the sheer number of individuals who say they will definitely vote, 37 percent, is as high as it’s ever been,” Della Volpe says. “That’s likely to only grow stronger. The number among Democrats is 51 percent saying they will definitely vote.”
But what’s fueling the speculation that youth organizing will likely have a positive impact at the polls as we head into the midterms is the combination between thinking that a civic action can make a difference and greater voter registration—that, and the intensity of the burning platform of continued school shootings.—Ruth McCambridge