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Enter the Other Swing Voter: the mighty 8%

These young, undecided voters can make or break an election — if they don’t allow fear and apathy to stop them from going to the polls

A first-time voter, left, takes a selfie with her mother after they cast their in-person absentee ballots at Seacoast Church Mount Pleasant on Oct. 31, 2020, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

While the United States contentiously navigates the pandemic, major U.S. Supreme Court decisions, historic inflation rates, and gun violence, the stakes for the approaching midterm elections are high. But frustration is higher among young, undecided voters.

A recent GenForward survey exploring young adults’ thoughts on building power and creating political change has shown that they, especially young adults of color, feel disempowered and apathetic about their own agency.

As young Black voters, we know firsthand about the internal struggle against political apathy. We’ve listened as our peers have shared their fears and anxieties. They wonder if the news they consume is biased, debate whether climate change or gun control issues will destroy us first, or worry that their vote isn’t even worth casting. And we know we remain a constant talking point for elected officials and news media who speculate wildly about our generation’s perspectives and choices without even hearing us.

First-time voter Delilah Freytes, 18, fills out her ballot at a polling location on Nov. 6, 2018, in Salida, California. Photo Illustration by Alex LaSalvia.Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Young, undecided voters can make or break elections. In 2020, more than half of people ages 18 to 29 emerged to vote in the presidential election. The turnout was the second highest for younger voters since 1972, when the voting age was lowered to 18. Yet there is still a real, underestimated threat of young voters potentially skipping the 2022 midterms.

Antiracist scholar Dr. Ibram X. Kendi identified this threat as the Other Swing Voter. These voters move through election cycles by swinging between voting for Democratic or third-party candidates, or not voting at all. They are most likely to be young and Black, or young and Latino.

Like clockwork, every election pundits theorize about the percentage of the electorate who remain undecided between candidates and political parties leading up to Election Day. The assumption behind these widely held theories is swing voters are White and not young, and a more diverse voter pool will inherently benefit Democrats, whose platform includes policies that broadly appeal to racial minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ populations.

However, data released by GenForward/University of Chicago in partnership with Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and Black Voters Matter, found an estimated 8% of those queried fit the definition of the Other Swing Voter. Black, Latino, Asian American, and Pacific Islander voters, and those younger than age 26 were more likely to fall within this group compared with their White and older counterparts.

But why is this significant? Because margins of 8% have been enough to swing elections. In 2020, 76 House and Senate races were decided with a margin of victory of 8% or less. Results from 13 of these races led to seats being flipped from Democratic control to the Republican party.

First-time voter Daquan Hill, 22, cast a ballot at Edgewater City Hall on Nov. 3, 2020, in Edgewater, Colorado. Photo illustration by Alex LaSalvia.Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

Even though the Other Swing Voter represents a potentially decisive portion of the electorate, we are frequently disregarded, overlooked, and unrepresented in the political process. The resulting frustration might be enough to keep us from voting in the midterms. The GenForward survey reveals that 82% of regular Democratic voters and 72% of people who swing from voting Democrat to Republican and vice versa agree with the statement “My individual vote matters for political change.” However, only 63% of Other Swing Voters agreed with that statement.

Among a very small sample of people who indicated they would not vote in midterms, about 32% of Other Swing Voters surveyed gave “I am frustrated with the current political system” as the reason they would not.

That isn’t to say feeling hopeless about the voting process has morphed into all-out disengagement. The outcry following the Supreme Court’s reversal of abortion protections under Roe v. Wade and the response to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection have shown that voters acknowledge the critical significance of this moment. We understand the weight these events carry for our communities: Seventy-eight percent of Other Swing Voters surveyed agreed that the Roe reversal was a targeted attack on women, and 76% agreed that the insurrection was an attack on the concept of a multiracial democracy.

The looming force of far-right politics remains a threat, and some have lost faith that our political process can be fixed. However, responses to recent events have shown that people can still find worth in the power and agency gained through voting. Take Kansas: In August, voters there overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to remove abortion rights from the state’s constitution. Strong campaigns boosted voter turnout, which included organizing efforts by Kansas youth. Ballot battles such as these demonstrate the power of people organizing in the election process.

We cannot give in to the spirit of fear or frustration at the expense of our power. Stacy Abrams, a voting rights icon in her own right and candidate for Georgia governor, recognized this fear in her grandmother, who voted for the first time in 1968. It’s the same unease that works to coerce today’s voters to ignore their own power to change the future.

We are the great 8%. This election cycle and decades of voter suppression want us to forget that our votes can change our country’s policies for the better. The overwhelming focus on White and older voters who don’t always represent us is why it is vital we seize this moment as Other Swing Voters and swing toward voting.

Lina Saleh and Adaeze Okorie, advocacy interns at the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, are both pursuing their master’s degrees in public health.