Ahead of the US midterms, we stressed the importance of high millennial voter turnout for Democrats to post strong election results. Our theory: millennials skew left in their positions, and Pew data shows this cohort will soon overtake baby boomers as the greatest share of the American electorate. That also makes 2018’s election a test case for what may come in 2020 and beyond.
Day-after exit poll data not only shows a large increase in millennial voters this year compared to the last midterms in 2014, but also that they played an important role in some tight races. Here’s all the results, courtesy of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE):
- Voter Turnout: CIRCLE estimates that 31% of young Americans (ages 18 to 29) voted in the midterms this year. That’s a large pickup from their day-after exit poll estimate of 21% in 2014, and the “31% turnout-estimate represents millions more young people casting votes” in the latest midterms.
Bottom line: CIRCLE “estimates that this is by far the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter century—the last seven midterm elections during which [they’ve] been using this same calculation method”.
- Political Preference: Exit polls showed that 67% of youth voted for a House Democratic candidate compared to only 32% for a House Republican candidate. That marked a “a historic 35-point vote choice gap that almost certainly helped the Democratic Party take control of the House of Representatives”.
- Importance Races: CIRCLE also showed how the youth vote “appears to have been decisive” in many races. In Wisconsin, for example, “where Democratic Candidate Tony Evers beat incumbent Republican Scott Walker by just 1.2 percentage points, under-30 voters supported Evers by a 23-point margin, 60% to 37%.” By contrast, youth voters supported Walker’s Democratic challenger Mary Burke in 2014 by a much smaller margin (51% vs. 47%).
Nevada also had tight gubernatorial and senate races, and “young people made up a particularly high share of the electorate” in this state this year. The Democratic candidates won both, with young voters supporting them over their Republican rivals by over 30-point margins. Steve Sisolak even became Nevada’s first Democratic governor in two decades. In addition, Democrat Jon Tester won a third term in Montana’s Senate; the results were so close the race was not called until the next day. Youth “made up an above-average 15% of the electorate” here, and “supported Tester over his Republican opponent by a nearly 40-point margin: 67% to 28%.”
- Looking Ahead to 2020: A stat Republicans should especially worry about for the next presidential election is that “youth turnout was particularly high in the group of states with high competitive gubernatorial contests: Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin”. Youth turnout in those states put together was 35%, or 4 percentage points higher than young voters overall. Why does this matter? These include many of the important swing states.
Moreover, CIRCLE found “Turnout was also higher (33%) in the group of states with both a hot-button ballot issue and a competitive statewide race: Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota.”
Link here to see all the details.
In sum, midterms generally have lower voter turnout than national elections and the younger the voter, the less likely they vote. With such a boost in millennial turnout in the latest midterms, especially in states with contested races and hot-button issues, we expect them to be a game changer in 2020. Not only will they likely represent the largest share of the American electorate by then, but hot button issues, such as gun control, healthcare, and marijuana legalization will certainly encourage them to get to the polls. Not to mention their overall poor views towards the current President, which likely drove millions more young voters to the polls than the last midterms. Through this lens, the 2020 presidential election will be the Democrats’ to lose. Now, they just need a good candidate…