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Why Gen Z and young voters will change future elections  

As election results continue to be certified throughout the country, one takeaway from the 2022 midterms is that Generation Z and other young voters born from the 1990s to the late 2000s defied expectations and improved their historically low turnout from previous years. That’s a big deal and here’s why it’s important.

The numbers aren’t official yet, but according to the preliminary data from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, about 27% of voters age 18-29 cast a ballot this past November. This percentage is lower than the 2018 midterms where it was 36%, however, it’s significantly higher than the 2014 midterms when the turnout for younger people hovered around 20%.

Approximately 27% of young people age 18-29 turned out to vote in the 2022 midterms according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. This is a significant increase over previous elections. (Illustration by Ernesto Cisneros/Kokopelli)

What’s driving young people to vote more in comparison to previous years like 2014? Some recent factors include the overturn of abortion access and the future of reproductive health care. Other issues like LGBT equality and overall representation are also key.

Political consultant and researcher for HIT Strategies Gabriela Vitela explained during a roundtable discussion at NMSU on Nov. 30, 2022, that Gen Z voters were the unrecognized and underrepresented demographic who made an appearance this past midterm season.

“One of the winners in this election is definitely young voters who are so often ignored or just not addressed really, and the extent to which we can already see the extraordinary impact they had in our elections,” Vitela said. “You cannot continue to ignore them and we still have a significant portion of the Gen Z generation that will age into being able to vote in 2024.”

Vitela’s argument highlights an important point which is that young people are not only becoming more energized to vote as they become older, they also recognize how our government can be non-reflective of their needs if they fail to speak up.

“The folks who have led the vanguard on [voter advocacy] have really shown that you have to listen to [Gen Z],” Vitela said. 

Shelly Doyle, a Gen Z voter, says that it’s important for her generation to vote so that young voices are fairly represented and their needs are properly attended to. It’s the reason why she voted this past election.

“If you have beliefs on things that need to change or certain things that you could see improve in our local and just government in general, this is an opportunity that we’ve had in the United States to voice that and to make our personal beliefs heard by voting for people that we align with more, or that we think could create changes that we want to see,” Doyle said. 

While representation and visibility were key issues to Gen Z according to Vitela and Doyle, NMSU government professor Cory Sukala also explained during the roundtable that campaign messaging plays another factor in turnout. 

“The rhetoric of election denial is really just not appealing to most people. We don’t like to hear when we think about our democracy … that it’s somehow unstable … it’s just not something that people like to hear,” Sukala said.

Sukala went on to say that election denial is not a favorable strategy for winning over voters, particularly young ones because it discredits the important issues they care about.

“The ones who managed to win seem to be the candidates that already were established candidates,” Sukala said. “Candidates who made election denial the platform that they were running on had a very different experience.” 

If future candidates do run against issues that are important to young voters and on a platform of election denialism, it’s only going to isolate a demographic that is slowly but surely becoming more engaged in the electoral process, according to the data. Representation of key issues remains important and that’s what candidates should focus on when running for office.

As the nation prepares for another major presidential election in 2024, this topic is only going to spark more conversation and debate about how the younger generations will show up to vote.

Ultimately, Gen Z will continue to improve on its turnout, which could potentially influence the trajectory of election results for years to come.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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