Voters between 18 and 29 made history in the 2020 election. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, or CIRCLE (https://circle.tufts.edu/2020-election-center), at least 52% of them, and perhaps as many as 55%, voted.
That turnout is at least 10 percentage points higher than in 2016 and the highest voting level among that age group since the 26th Amendment granted those over 18 were granted the right to vote in 1971. Not only did young people vote in unprecedented numbers, but they also voted heavily in swing states like Georgia and Michigan. Arguably, young people are responsible for the Biden victory. Virtually every population subgroup can claim part of the credit for the Biden victory. Black women voted for him by higher margins than any other group. Latinx voters in Arizona put him over the top n that state. Among young people, every group, except white men, voted for former Vice President Joe Biden.
The CIRCLE study of young voters offers lessons for upcoming elections. Young voters made up their minds about their electoral choice later than other votes. Three-quarters of those over 29 had their minds made up from the beginning. CIRCLE also suggests that information about early voting, mail-in ballots, and other procedures was not as available as it might have been. Despite a massive attempt to get out the vote by African American activists, fewer African American youth voted in person, partly because many did not get enough information about voting mechanics. Some of this is due to voter suppression, and some may be due to insufficient outreach. Also, many who are students may have faced barriers in voting.
Those of us who are elders have often lamented that young folks don’t vote, but the CIRCLE study suggests we need to hold our powder. Young voters did not vote as much as the rest of us (total voter participation hovers at 70%), but they voted more than they ever had, and they had more significant barriers than older voters did. And for those of us who lean left, we must acknowledge that this summer’s Black Lives Matter protest may have pulled young people to the polls. According to the CIRCLE studies, young people are concerned about COVID-19, climate change, racism and the economy. If federal, state, and local governments manage these issues and offer young people the opportunity for engagement, the 2020 coalition may stick together.
The 2020 youth coalition is, in some ways, our hope for the future. Young people mostly voted for Biden along race and gender lines, but the young white male holdout suggests that some of today’s race challenges may persist into the future. Meanwhile, within the Democratic-leaning 2020 youth coalition, there are apparent tensions and differences around how we prioritize these concerns and how we emphasize the intersectionality of these concerns. It’s not either/or with the economy, COVID-19, climate change, and racism; it’s all of the above. The Biden team will have to walk a tightrope to balance everyone’s needs and concerns.
I am excited about the 2020 youth coalition and look forward to how they may continue to come together for better health care, a more inclusive economy, planet-saving policies to slow climate change, and the dismantling of systemic racism. I’d be even more excited if young Trump supporters dared to stand up to the man who lives in his own delusional world to tell him to concede this election. Our nation, and the world, has been treated to the obscene image of a grotesque toddler throwing a tantrum on the international stage. If Republican elders don’t step up to stop the madness, perhaps young people, especially those who voted for 45, can talk some sense into him. After all, when we say that young people will inherit this world, we don’t divide them by party.
Young people showed up and showed out in 2020. For the sake of our future, they need to keep it up.
Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and author.