By Gabriel Lipker
Apr 3, 2023, 1:45 PM
Between the 2018 and 2022 elections, Idaho had the largest increase among eighteen- and nineteen-year-old voters in the Nation. In March 2023, however, Governor Brad Little signed legislation that removes student identification cards from the list of acceptable identification to vote. Specifically, the legislation bans student photo ID cards issued by high schools and accredited high education institutions. With Idaho’s ban, now five states, including Texas, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee, explicitly prohibit using any form of student ID as a valid voter ID.
In Texas, Republican lawmakers, citing “safety concerns” and fears of “political violence,” recently introduced a bill to ban all polling places on college campuses. These state legislative responses follow U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Nikem Williams’s (D-GA-30) introduction of the Youth Voting Rights Act in the 117th Congress.1S. 4500, 117th Cong. (2022). The proposed legislation sought to expand voter registration services at public colleges and universities, enable young people to pre-register to vote before turning eighteen, and mandate the acceptance of student IDs as valid identification for state voter-ID requirements in federal elections. The proposal aimed to enforce2See U.S. CONST. XXVI, § 2 (“The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”). Notably, this congressional power only extends to federal elections. See generally Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970). the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which states that “the right of citizens . . . who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”3U.S. CONST. XXVI, § 1 (emphasis added).
When young voters perceive a threat to their rights, they actively turn out to vote. This takeaway helps explain why youth turnout reached its second-highest level in the past thirty years in the 2022 midterm election. From the 1990s until the 2018 election, voters under thirty turned out steadily at around 20 percent. In 2018, however, turnout among these voters increased to approximately 31 percent. Subsequently, in 2022, turnout was roughly 27 percent among young voters, according to data released by about one-third of states so far. This turnout has principal effects on elections: it helps Democrats nationally—especially in battleground states—and provides insight into the issues that motivate young voters.
In the 2022 midterms, Democrats retained control of the Senate and lost the House of Representatives to a narrow Republican majority. Overall, the youth vote accounted for approximately 12 percent of the total vote cast in 2022. This cohort voted for Democrats at a 28 percent margin: 63 percent of the youth vote went to Democrats, and 35 percent went to Republicans. This margin is significant compared to other age groups. Voters thirty-to-forty-four years old were nearly evenly split between the two major parties, and voters forty-five and over went for Republicans with approximately 55 percent of the vote. The youth vote’s size and Democratic lean surely contributed to Democrats’ performance in the midterms, helping them win virtually every contested Senate seat.
One issue motivated youth voters to turn out more than any other: abortion rights. Data shows that 44 percent of young voters identified abortion as their top issue, followed by inflation at 21 percent and crime at 13 percent.4It is worth noting that crime and gun policy were listed separately. If the two issues were combined in some way, the total would be 22 percent, second only to abortion. There was already evidence before the midterm elections and in the aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overruling Roe v. Wade that abortion would be a motivating issue for voters.5Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), overruled by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022). In August 2022, voters in Republican-leaning Kansas voted at a 59-to-41 rate against an amendment removing abortion rights protections from the state constitution, with the youth vote accounting for around 14 percent of the vote. In battleground states where abortion rights were hanging in the balance, such as Michigan, voters approved an abortion rights amendment to the state constitution, and youth turnout was significant.
Youth voters, in the aggregate, across ten battleground states turned out at 31 percent. In particular, in Nevada, where incumbent U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto held onto her seat by one percent of the vote, the youth vote made up an even higher percentage of the electorate than in 2018. Some states, however, where abortion rights were not under threat saw drops in Democratic turnout. In New York, for example, Democratic turnout dropped 10 percent compared to 2018, contributing to Republican gains in the state. This data presents a unique challenge when it comes to motivating the youth to vote. Young voters are motivated to vote in reaction to unpopular policies, and Republicans have an issue courting young voters, contributing to their defeats in the Senate. While Democrats have an advantage in attracting young voters, they have historically had trouble getting them to the polls with the consistency and regularity of older cohorts, who prefer Republicans.
Heading toward the 2024 election, political pundits argue that Democrats would be wise to identify issues that may be similarly motivating to young voters as abortion was in 2022. The United States Supreme Court has already begun deliberations on student loan forgiveness and has indicated a willingness to revisit LGBTQ rights. Moreover, other issues, such as inflation and crime, may still be major issues in 2024. Meanwhile, some conservative political strategists contend that Republicans might consider changing their approach on these issues to close their deficit with young voters. If youth turnout maintains the generation highs reached in two of the past three elections, parties need to better account for and mobilize the youth vote to avail themselves of this significant voting bloc.
- 1S. 4500, 117th Cong. (2022). The proposed legislation sought to expand voter registration services at public colleges and universities, enable young people to pre-register to vote before turning eighteen, and mandate the acceptance of student IDs as valid identification for state voter-ID requirements in federal elections.
- 2See U.S. CONST. XXVI, § 2 (“The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”). Notably, this congressional power only extends to federal elections. See generally Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970).
- 3U.S. CONST. XXVI, § 1 (emphasis added).
- 4It is worth noting that crime and gun policy were listed separately. If the two issues were combined in some way, the total would be 22 percent, second only to abortion.
- 5Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), overruled by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022).