Midterm Elections: How Young Voters Saved Democrats in 2022

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CNN

Democrats did much better in the midterm elections than many pundits and analysts expected. They are favored to retain the Senate and appear to have kept their losses in the House to a minimum.

In doing so, Democrats defied historical precedent, which suggests the president’s party is losing ground in the midterm elections.

President Joe Biden attributed, in part, the “historic” turnout of young Americans to the strong Democratic performance.

A look at the data suggests that there has probably not been an increase in youth turnout relative to the rest of the electorate. But it suggests Democrats have defied election expectations this year due to a historically large age gap that has seen younger voters overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates.

The lack of a youth push quickly becomes apparent when you look at the exit polls. Voters under 30 accounted for 12% of all voters. In each mid-term of the past 20 years, this group has represented between 11% and 13% of the electorate.

(Other data also shows that young voters did not make up a significantly larger share of the electorate compared to previous midterm elections.)

Now, overall turnout is expected to be higher this year compared to most past midterms. One could therefore argue that young voters turned out in greater numbers than in the past, but this is true for all age groups.

Interactive: Anatomy of a Close Election: How Americans Voted in 2022 vs. 2018

Although they may not have represented a larger share of the electorate than normal, young voters still made their presence felt.

The Democrats would have been crushed without the support of young voters. Democratic House candidates won voters under 45 by 13 points, while losing voters 45 and over by 10 points.

Breaking it down further, the Democratic House candidates won voters under 30 by 28 points — that’s up from their 26-point advantage with that group two years ago.

That’s very different from other age groups, exit polls show. Democrats lost every age bracket of the 45-and-older electorate by at least 7 points, including a 12-point loss among seniors (65 and older).

Perhaps of particular interest is that voters under 30 seemed to vote significantly more Democratic than those aged 30 to 39. Voters under 30 belong partly to Gen Z (those born after 1996) and partly to younger Millennials. Voters between the ages of 30 and 39 are the oldest millennials.

These older millennials were Barack Obama’s strongest supporters during his 2008 primary campaign and eventual rise to the presidency. This year, they have backed the Democratic House candidates by just 11 points.

Notably, the Democratic Party today leans on the youngest of voters in a way that it historically did not – at least not before the last election.

Consider the first midterm (2006) when millennials made up a significant share of voters under 30. The Democrats won 60% of their vote, not that different from the 63% of voters under 30 they won this year.

Remember, though, that the Democrats easily won the House popular vote in 2006, while they will likely lose it by a few points this year. In fact, the Democrats won every age group (under 30, 30-44, 45-65, and 65+) in the 2006 midterm elections. the House Democrat in 2006 between voters under 30 (60%) and those 65 and older (49%) was 11 points.

This year, this gap was 20 points (63% against 43%).

Going back further to 1990 (the last midterm when none of today’s voters under 30 were alive), there was virtually no age gap. A similar percentage of voters under 30 and 65 and older voted for the Democratic House candidates (52% and 53% respectively).

When you look at these changes, you can see why Biden was so eager to congratulate young voters. He is absolutely right that they are an essential part of the Democratic coalition. Tuesday’s result, however, was not due to them showing up in greater numbers. It’s because those who ran were so Democratic.

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