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By Jenn M. Jackson
January 25, 2023

Supposedly, the big news out of this year’s midterms election cycle was going to be the “Red Wave.”  Unfortunately for Republicans, the “wave” has been recharacterized as a “splash” or “ripple.” While Republicans took control of the House, they failed to take control of the Senate. And, across the country, Democratic voters turned out to vote on critical issues facing minoritized communities. But, the real news is that the people, women and nonbinary folx, trans and queer people, immigrants, Black, Brown, and disabled young people, and Generation Y, made a very clear declaration about the issues they care most about.

 

Importantly, the recent GenForward Survey reflects the sentiments of young Americans heading into the midterm elections. A key finding was that the majority of our respondents, across racial groups, thought that electoral politics were a critical factor in shaping political life in the United States. When asked the best way to make change in the United States, 48% of Latinx respondents answered “voting in national elections,” “voting in state and local elections,” or “electing good candidates to political office.” Likewise, 45% of Black Americans, 49% of Asian Americans, and 54% of white Americans polled shared these views. These findings represent a plurality of each racial group in our sample. They also suggest that many young Americans hold electoral politics in high priority, at least when the midterm was just around the corner, and were poised to make real change in November’s midterm elections.

the real news is that the people, women and nonbinary folx, trans and queer people, immigrants, Black, Brown, and disabled young people, and Generation Y, made a very clear declaration about the issues they care most about.

One of the primary takeaways from this year’s midterm election was that young Americans were a critical force of resistance against the “red wave.”  Going into the election, those young people who felt most compelled to turnout were likely Democrats. These projections played out in a big way on November 8. According to exit polls, both white and minority youth favored Democratic candidates. This slight shift in marginal support for Democratic candidates was pervasive enough to shape the overall election outcomes and register a clear rejection on the part of young voters of Republican policy initiatives. 

 

Young people’s political attitudes and behavior affected who was elected this year as well as what policies passed at the state level. For example, one of the key issues that emerged on ballots this year was that of abortion. In June 2022, the SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade, a 1973 decision which enshrined abortion as a constitutional right in the United States. According to the October 2022 GenForward Survey, 38% of Black American respondents expressed that the recent decision to overturn Roe v Wade would make them more likely to vote for Democrats. Similarly, 37% of Asian American respondents, 31% of Latinx respondents, and 30% of white American respondents share the same sentiment. We also found that a majority of respondents in our sample either somewhat or strongly disagreed with the overturning of Roe. Specifically, 58% of Latinx respondents, 66% of white respondents, 67% of Black respondents, and 74% of Asian American respondents disagreed with the SCOTUS. 

These findings are critical given that abortion rights were on the ballot in five states: Kentucky, California, Michigan, Vermont, and Montana. In all five states, voters affirmed abortion rights, dealing another blow to the supposed “red wave” politics that had been touted for months. The overwhelming blowback against the overturning of Roe signals that young Americans, who are also one of the most diverse racially and sexually generations in our history, will be an important voting bloc going into the 2024 presidential elections as well.

The overwhelming blowback against the overturning of Roe signals that young Americans, who are also one of the most diverse racially and sexually generations in our history, will be an important voting bloc going into the 2024 presidential elections as well.

As we move toward 2024, this year’s electoral outcomes suggest that young Americans across racial groups have embraced the role of traditional political participation in shaping their futures. But, when asked about their feelings of inclusion and belonging, many in our sample reported that they do not yet feel fully integrated in the United States. When asked if they feel like a full and equal citizen with all the rights and protections of other groups, 38% of young white Americans strongly agreed compared to 24% of Latinx respondents, 20% of Black respondents, and 23% of Asian American respondents. A plurality of 46% Latinx respondents, 39% of white respondents, and 52% of Asian American respondents somewhat agreed with this statement while only 34% of Black Americans shared that sentiment. Conversely, 44% of Black Americans, nearly half,  either somewhat or strongly disagreed with the statement that they are full and equal citizens. Additionally, 30% of Latinx respondents and 22% of Asian American respondents shared this concern. The gap in sentiment between young white Americans and young Americans of color shows the lasting and enduring nature of racial inequity, systemic disprivilege, and institutional racism in the United States. Without Democrats making a concerted effort to address this lack of inclusion for young diverse Americans, they may lose the support they’ve recently benefited from.

Overall, these data provide a hopeful outlook for upcoming election cycles and suggest that young Americans are poised to make lasting political change in the United States. However, these data still show that, while young Americans who represent the most diverse generation in this country’s history are deeply critical of policies that negatively impact their rights and freedoms in the US, they also find themselves on the outside of normative social life and society. 

The GenForward Survey is associated with the University of Chicago. October 2022 responses were collected October 16th, 2022 through October 28th, 2022, among a nationally-representative sample of 2,294 young adults between the ages of 18 and 40. The overall margin of sampling error is +/- 3.55%.

Jenn M. Jackson (they/them) is a queer androgynous Black woman, an abolitionist, a lover of all Black people, and an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Political Science. Jackson’s research is in Black Politics with a focus on group threat, gender and sexuality, political behavior, and social movements. Jackson is a columnist at Teen Vogue, the author of peer-reviewed articles at Public Culture, Politics, Groups, and Identities, and the Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy, and the author of several forthcoming book chapters on the intersections of race, gender, class, and politics. Jackson received their doctoral degree in Political Science at the University of Chicago in 2019.

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