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Following the 2022 midterm elections, the Republicans narrowly gained control of the House of Representatives, while Democrats remained in control of the Senate, creating a divided government for the next two years.
These results come as a surprise as pre-election polls predicted a red wave, defined as the Republican party winning a substantial number of seats in both the House and Senate during an election year, especially considering high inflation rates, economic instability and President Biden’s low approval ratings.
It is also typical that an incumbent president does not fare well during the midterm elections. Of the last five presidents who started their terms with control of the House and Senate, four of them lost that control during the midterms.
This was not the case for President Biden in the 2022 midterm elections.
On Nov. 9, one day after the midterms, John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, and Jing-Jing Shen, Harvard University senior who served as the 2021 chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, spoke in the final installment of the university’s National Agenda Speaker Series, to break down the numbers and unpack the midterm elections from the perspective of Gen Z voters.
“I never believed that there was going to be a red wave,” Della Volpe said. “The reason I did not believe that is because the most reliable polls [ABC, Washington Post, CBS Battleground Tracker] showed relatively little movement over the last year.”
Della Volpe shared a tweet that translated statistics regarding young voters from 1986 to 2018 into a wave, characterizing the Gen Z wave of voter turnout.
These trends are also indicated in a Pew Research Center study about Gen Z, millennials and Gen X outvoting older generations in the 2018 midterms.
“Gen Z was responsible for 4.5 million, or 4%, of all votes,” the study stated. “This post-Millennial generation is just starting to reach voting age, and their impact will likely be felt more in the 2020 presidential election when they are projected to be 10% of eligible voters.”
Shen believes that as Gen Z becomes a larger voting bloc every election, they have also become increasingly in tune with the social, political and economic issues around them.
“Young people, this election, really recognized that all that was at stake this election was on the ballot,” Shen said. “Rights to abortion, our democracy, climate change, gun reform, all of these different factors really coalesced in energizing young people to turn out and vote.”
Early estimates determined that 27% of youth (ages 18 to 29) cast a ballot in 2022, which is the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades. This turnout is important for the Democrats because young voters tend about 63% towards Democrats.
Jonathan Schapowal, a freshman political science major from New York, voted for the first time in a close governor’s race between Democrat Katherine Hochul and Republican Lee Zeldin.
“I am thinking of many issues that were going on like abortion and inflation, stuff like that,” Schapowal said. “As someone with a majority of women in my family, it’s important to vote for them.”
Hochul won close to 53% of the vote to Zeldin’s 47%, making her the first woman elected governor of New York.
Weldin Dunn, a junior double majoring in information systems and political science with an American politics concentration from Delaware, understands the motivations that young people, like him, had to vote this year.
“Things like protecting democracy itself is a big concern… I think that’s something a lot of people were concerned about, just trying to push people to hold on to the Senate, especially having so many Pennsylvania students here at the university,” Dunn said.
Katherine Slough, a freshman political science major from Pennsylvania voted in the contentious U.S. Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican, Mehmet Oz.
“Pennsylvania would not be the same turnout if young people didn’t vote,” Slough said.
The Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat, a previously GOP-held seat, was flipped Democrat with a Fetterman victory, holding the Democrats’ control of the Senate. In Pennsylvania, youth accounted for about 12% of the vote, 70% of which voted Fetterman over the 28% that voted Oz.
On the university’s campus, these issues were able to mobilize the 18 to 21-year-old age group as they did in the 2020 election. In 2020, the university had an 87.8% voter registration rate, which is the percentage of voter-eligible students who registered, and an 85.5% voting rate based on the registered voters. These were increases in student voting at the university from 2016 when it was a voting rate of 55.5%.
“What’s interesting is that the people who aren’t registered to vote as much are people in majors similar to mine, particularly engineering majors,” Dunn said. “Computer science is one of the lowest registered majors, that in comparison to political science being much higher.”
According to the university’s campus report on voting from October 2021, students studying computer science and information systems had a voting rate of 43%, 42% and 73% in 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections respectively. Similarly, for engineering and engineering technologies, the voting rate was 45%, 38% and 75% in the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections respectively. These majors along with mathematics and statistics have among the lowest voter turnout in previous elections.
“As a political science major, a lot of people in that major knew to go out and vote,” Schapowal said.
For fellow Pennsylvania residents attending the university, Haigney found that some did not vote because they either missed the cut-off to register or were not able to go all the way home for a day.
“I think kids are under the impression that it’s a long process to register to vote when it’s really not,” Haigney said. “I think more kids need to be aware of how easy it is to vote, how to sign up and where to go.”
There are many different ways to vote across various states including voting absentee, early voting if available or voting by mail if allowed.
“It shouldn’t matter how you vote,” Schapowal said. “I did absentee ballot [voting] which I guess is a big thing now with college [students], so even if you are not home on Election Day, there are ways for you to vote.”
Dunn, Haigney, Schapowal and Slough agree that regardless of the method, voting is essential, and bringing attention to its importance is becoming increasingly valuable.
“You have to encourage people to vote because that one vote turns into thousands, and that’s why it matters,” Haigney said.