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Youth vote may no longer be a mirage



During an interview for a podcast before last week’s election, I referred to the elusive youth vote as “fool’s gold.”

Young voters are too busy raising their families and starting their careers, I said. They aren’t as invested in the community. Their growing numbers make leaders in both parties dream about the possibilities, but that always ends in disappointment.

Elections are a time when our assumptions and preconceptions get put to the test. And this year, mine were wrong.

According to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, the 27 percent turnout this year for voters aged 18-29 was the second highest for a midterm election in nearly 30 years. Turnout was even higher (31 percent) in the battleground states where control of the U.S. Senate was decided.

There is no question as to which party was helped and which was hurt by the increased youth voter turnout. Results from the Edison Research National Election Pool exit poll showed 63 percent of young voters choosing Democrats in Congressional races, while only 35 percent cast their ballots for Republicans.

That’s down only slightly from the 2018 midterm election, when a whopping 67 percent of young voters responded to the election of Donald Trump by voting for Democrats.

That same exit poll showed support for Democrats was not nearly as strong among older voters. Those aged 30 to 44 barely topped 50 percent in support. Voters aged 45 and older favored Republicans by at least 10 percent.

Democrats enjoyed their strongest support from young, black voters, with 89 percent breaking their way. That was a much wider margin than among young Latino (64 percent) or white (58 percent) voters.

The weeks immediately following an election are typically a time of self-reflection and recalibration, especially for the losing party. What assumptions and preconceptions did they have that proved to be wrong?

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen after the 2020 election. Instead of seeking ways to refine and improve their message, the Republican Party invested in a false narrative alleging massive fraud and deception. Why try to learn from mistakes when none were made, and the only cause for defeat is cheating?

Clearly, Republicans have work to do in selling their message to young voters. All of the whining of the past two years about stolen elections has not won many converts to their side. They’re going to have to come up with real proposals that are attractive to those voters.

At the same time, the election showed that Democrats have work to do in winning back working-class voters who feel they have been neglected, and are worried about the rising possibility of someone breaking into their home or attacking them on the street.

While some votes are still being counted, and will be for some time, it seems clear that the election will bring us two years of divided government.

That time could be spent building bridges and finding common solutions for our most urgent problems that reflect the best thinking of both parties. Or, they could be spent in a two-year barrage of lies and misinformation leading up to the 2024 presidential election.

Only a fool would bet on the first option.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.