By Annya Kong, Staff Writer
During the 2022 midterm elections, youth political engagement reached record high levels. (Photo Courtesy of Junior Editor-in-Chief Bridget Galibois)
Going into the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, many predicted a “red wave” to sweep the nation. Yet, Republicans only managed to obtain a narrow majority in Congress, with control of the Senate falling. This result is largely attributed to a number of factors, such as the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson which swung many voters to the Left, or the extremism of former Republican president Donald Trump that seemed to hurt GOP campaigns more than help them. But a huge contributor that may be overlooked is the high turnout of youth voters: according to estimates from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 27% of those aged 18-29 voted, likely the second-highest youth turnout rate in the past three decades. Young voters increasingly lean Democratic, and swung key races in competitive states towards that end (CIRCLE). “I believe youth are represented as a generational blue wave, which is accurate,” said a Payton senior.
In an age where information spreads faster than ever, young people, including those without voting capacity, find themselves increasingly aware of the world – a world that includes high economic instability, a pandemic that hit Generation Z the hardest, and crises from all corners of the globe. This, compounded with their unprecedented access to information on global events and varying opinions, means Generation Z seems acutely disillusioned with the world as well as fiercely motivated to change it. This effect can be seen within school grounds across grade levels: of the Payton students surveyed, over 80% followed the midterms and 57% considered themselves highly involved. Of these students, abortion was a popular issue cited, in addition to climate change, voter accessibility and accurate representation. “I’m worried about the future of women’s rights,” said a freshman. “I’m worried that religion is getting mixed into politics.”
Yet despite their heavy influence, youth go vastly underrepresented among political operatives, with the rapid rise of youth political participation seemingly having left election predictions and candidates in the dust. This is despite research that consistently indicates that youth are responsive to being asked to participate. John Fetterman, who ran for Pennsylvania senator, was one of the rare few who directly catered to youth in his campaign, and the results were overwhelming: 70% of youth voters aged 18-29 voted for Fetterman (CIRCLE). Now, the US Senator-elect and the recent elections at large may represent a shift in the recognition of youth’s role in politics. For the first time, there will be a Generation Z member of Congress: Maxwell Frost, a US representative-elect from Florida. “Youth are being portrayed as a powerful force right now and it is compounding to grant youth more and more decision making power,” said a Payton senior.
It’s clear that in the US and beyond, young people are the demographic to look out for. Their unapologetic role in reform and increasing determination for change have shown them to be far ahead of their own time – and it’s up to older generations to keep up.