Polling data and high levels of voter engagement indicate 2020 may bring out a wave of young voters, experts say.
“There are a number of things that tell me it will be a high turnout year,” Kei Kawashima Ginsberg, the director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts (CIRCLE), told CNN.
“There are so many more voters who have a previous vote history,” she said, noting members of Gen Z who voted for the first time in the 2018 midterm elections. “That combined with campaign outreach really gives a huge cadre of young people who have been reached out to and are active and are reaching out to other young people.”
A pre-election analysis from CIRCLE found that there are 6.8 million more young people with a history of voting in 2020 than there were in 2016.
As of Friday, more than 1.2 million voters age 18-21 had already cast votes in 39 states reporting, according to Catalist, a company that provides data, analytics and other services to Democrats, academics and nonprofit issue-advocacy organizations and is giving new insights into who is voting before November.
Kawashima Ginsberg also mentioned the number of young people, who may not have been eligible to vote in the last presidential election, but have taken to the streets to make their voices heard since 2016. While she noted there’s a stereotype that some young people fed up with electoral politics will protest but not vote, CIRCLE has not yet found that to be true. In 2019, CIRCLE wrote that the March For Our Lives, the massive gun violence prevention demonstration that followed the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, “fueled youth engagement in the 2018 election.”
According to CIRCLE, as of June, 27% of 18- to 24-year-olds have attended a march of demonstration, a jump from the 5% and 16% of 18-24-year-olds who had done so in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
And ahead of the 2020 election, according to CIRCLE, 83% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they believe young people have the power to change the country and 79% say that the Covid-19 pandemic has helped them realize politics affects their daily lives.
Kawashima Ginsberg predicts that the empowerment of young people could lead to a spike in youth voter turnout, but noted that in order for that to be the case, the groups need to organize around shared messaging.
“I hear them talking a lot about how racism is an intersectional issue, and there seems to be really strong commitment to address that, so I can see, it could be a moment that is ripe for them,” Kawashima Ginsberg said.
According to CNN’s polling, when it comes to young voters, 51% of registered voters ages 18 to 34 say they are extremely or very enthusiastic to vote in 2020, compared to the 30% of registered voters in that age group who said the same in 2016.
Likewise, a preview of the Harvard Institute of Politics Fall 2020 Youth Poll found that 63% of young Americans say they will “definitely” vote in November as compared to the 47% who said the same in 2016. Overall, the results of Harvard’s survey project the highest youth voter turnout in 12 years.
Chip Meyers, a 21-year-old man from Arkansas, will be voting for the first time this November. While Meyers is a Republican, he is voting for Biden, he told CNN.
“I expect young voters to vote at all-time high rates,” Meyers added, noting that young voters are “increasingly affected by political issues such as healthcare, LGBT rights, and immigration.”
Likewise, Lilya Vanderaar, a 20-year-old woman from Pennsylvania, will be casting her first ballot. While Vanderaar considers herself to be a moderate Republican, she will be voting for Biden as well, citing “climate change and morality of the candidate” as the key issues motivating her vote.
“I think youth voter turnout will be high, since from my observation there has been a lot of advocacy in favor of voting on social media,” Vanderaar said.
According to Ben Wessel, executive director of NextGen America, he has never before seen such excitement from young voters before this election cycle.
NextGen America, the youth-oriented, progressive nonprofit founded by businessman Tom Steyer in 2013, has deployed over 17,000 volunteers in 11 battleground states to engage with, register, and mobilize young people ahead of the 2020 election, according to the organization.
“People understand more about the differences in candidates and understand the nitty gritty of casting a ballot [more] than we’ve ever seen before. In my mind – all signs that point to people who are more fired up to vote and participate,” Wessel told CNN.
Both Kawashima Ginsberg and Wessel pointed to a number of reasons why young Americans may be more motivated to turn out in 2020 than in recent past election cycles, including the unprecedented national moment where the Covid-19 pandemic is intersecting with a nationwide racial reckoning, economic distress, a failing climate and political vitriol.
Young Americans were one of the demographics hardest hit by job losses, according to Pew Research Center, as one in four Americans ages 16 to 24 lost jobs between February and May. According to Harvard’s Fall 2020 survey, young voters are more concerned with the economy now than they were last spring. While in the spring, 6% of young voters listed the economy as their top issue, the state of the economy jumped to the top of young voters’ concerns, with 23% listing it as their most important issue this fall.
Dan Glickman, a vice president of the Aspen Institute, believes young people will turn out in part because of their current economic situation.
“There’s a lot of negative ads, hostile ads, everything else turns a lot of younger people off, but it’s still underlying all of this as the issue of employment and jobs and jobs, the future of economic opportunity,” Glickman – a former head of the Institute of Politics at Harvard, as well as a former Clinton administration official and Democratic congressman – told CNN.
Glickman noted that the current economic situation may push young voters to the left becaus