It would be an overstatement to say that young people aren’t engaged in politics. My peers are leading movements on everything from gun reform to climate change. It is my generation — Generation Z — that is using the power of social media to organize and spread awareness about political issues. Simply put, we are making our voices heard.
Yet, despite young people demonstrating our hunger for change, there haven’t been nearly enough of us converting that passion into voting. As a result, the one question I am constantly asked as a youth activist is, “What will it take to get young people to vote?” Indeed, there’s merit to the question.
While youth turnout has increased in recent elections, the rate at which we turn out remains lower compared to older generations. In the 2018 midterm election, 28 percent of people ages 18-29 voted, about half the national average. In the 2020 presidential election, nearly 50 percent of young people voted, but that was still about 16 percent lower than the national average. This leaves many people skeptical about whether young people will actually vote and what can be done to get more of us to show up at the ballot box in the 2022 midterm election.
What makes the midterms different from previous elections, however, is that Democrats now have everything they need to reach and convince young people to vote for them. In particular, the combination of the Republican conservative Supreme Court reversing Roe v. Wade, the Democrats’ historic investment into fighting climate change in the Inflation Reduction Act (with zero Republican support), and President Biden’s decision to forgive student loans (up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for non-Pell Grant recipients making less than $125,000 per year) creates the perfect recipe for Democrats to energize and turn out young voters in November.
But, to do that, it’s crucial that Democrats communicate the reality of the Republican Party and its accomplishments to young voters.
Young people have made their opinions about abortion and climate change clear. Polling highlights that the vast majority of young people support the right to a woman’s right to choose, the urgency of acting on climate change, and the need for the government to take action on forgiving student loans.
At the same time, however, polling before the Dobbs decision in June, which overturned Roe, indicated Democrats and the president were losing support among young people. Two polls found that over the past year, Biden’s approval rating among young people dropped anywhere from 15 to 20 percent.
Until June, there seemed to be a disconnect between what young people wanted and what they thought Democrats and Biden were doing to address our concerns. But the Republican decision to reverse Roe, combined with the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act and student loan forgiveness, has fundamentally shifted how young people assess both parties: Republicans seek to make our lives worse and the Democrats are delivering on what is important to us.
Now, Democrats must spur my generation to the ballot box to vote against Republicans. They must make abortion a central issue — up and down the ballot — and capitalize on their recent successes in every media outlet and on every social media platform.
Based on the results from the Kansas primary, if abortion is on the ballot, people do turn out and vote. In fact, so much so that more people voted for the abortion referendum than the actual candidates. My generation, in particular, feels compelled to act because it is young women who saw a 50-year-old precedent cementing abortion rights stripped from them. Worse, Republicans across state legislatures and in the US Senate are making it harder for young women to obtain abortions — making the threat to reproductive rights more immediate.
Although abortion rights may not be on every physical ballot, the Democratic Party can act and message in a way that makes it clear it is. That means getting its candidates to include protecting a woman’s right to choose at the heart of their campaigns. Democrats must make the stakes of the November election clear.
Beyond centering abortion rights, Democrats must also amplify the fact that their party listened to young voters’ concerns and, because of that, achieved legislative accomplishments no past administration had — the largest investment in combating climate change and cancellation of the largest amount of student loans.
Given how young people consume information, Democrats can sell this message to us in two ways.
First, Democrats must make engaging yet concise ads about how they acted on abortion, climate change, and student loans — and how every Republican did not. To reach us, these ads should run not only on cable news networks, but also on streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu as the majority of young people do not watch the news or cable. Second, Democrats must recruit young activists and celebrities with large followings on platforms like TikTok, Twitch, and Snapchat. There is no one better to reach young voters than those with whom we can relate.
Democrats now have everything they need to get an unprecedented number of young voters to the polls. We are ready. And we will show up and vote in November.
Victor Shi is a junior at UCLA, was elected as the youngest delegate for Joe Biden in 2020, and cohosts the iGen Politics Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Victorshi2020.