HomeLearning CenterNine Younger Voters Tell the Post What 2024 Candidates Should Focus On

Nine Younger Voters Tell the Post What 2024 Candidates Should Focus On

Originally published by Anthony J. Rivera for the Washington Post

Next year’s national elections could be consequential for millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, and members of Generation Z, people born between 1997 and 2012.The generations combined are on track to make up roughly 40 percent of U.S. voters, and their vote could decisively impact election outcomes.

Over the last decade, issues like abortion, gun violence and the climate crisis have emerged as key priorities of younger voters, according to a survey by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University after the 2022 midterms. Those topics also matched some of the concerns expressed in interviews, most from a Washington Post social call out this summer asking younger voters what issues they wanted candidates for political office— from state and local offices to the presidency — to address in 2024. Other issues included health care costs, campaign finance reform, supporting small businesses, stagnant wages for essential workers and more.

Their responses offer a sampling of views: most leaned left or didn’t identify with a party. Some individuals are politically active, working in groups centered on youth organizing or running for office. Others are trying to make a living fighting wildfires or operating their own market research company. All said their responses were based on their personal experiences.

Sam Cole, a software engineer in Massachusetts, is worried about economic stability and the fentanyl crisis unraveling his hometown. “The issues that I brought up is just the stuff that’s most salient in my life,” he told The Post. “It’s the stuff that I sort of, you know, feel with my heart and see with my eyes.”

While younger voters have typically turned out to vote at lower rates than older generations, that gap is beginning to narrow. Between 2014 and 2018, turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds increased by 16 percentage points and among 30- to 44-year-olds increased 13 percentage points. In 2020, high voter turnout among younger voters continued:53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out compared to just 44 percent in 2016 while 63 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds turned out compared to just 56 percent. Turnout dropped among younger voters in 2022 compared to 2018, at 26 percent turnout for 18-29 and 38 percent for 30-39 — still historically high for a midterm election, which typically produces a lower turnout rate than general elections. These numbers are from The Post’s analysis of data released by the census after every election.

The impact of their increased participation and the issues they prioritized was most recently demonstrated in the 2022 midterms. Younger voters were galvanized by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and in key battleground states were credited with helping stem a “red wave” pundits had predicted, with Democrats retaining control of the Senate and Republicans narrowly winning the House.

Several of the people we spoke to described multiple issues as inherently connected. The effects of climate change, some said, affect health care, job growth and transportation. Reproductive rights were one domino among many relating to gender equality, one student said. And a former wildland firefighter placed his concerns at the center of a web of issues like wage stagnation, inflation and a rapidly heating planet.

​​ “The age of the single issue voter is quickly going away,” Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), a Gen Z member of Congress, told The Post when asked about engagement among younger voters. “A huge part of that is because young people tend to view issues not in the traditional silos that most folks in politics may be used to. They like to connect the issues and they see how these issues inherently work with each other to create the conditions that we’re in.”

How candidates talk about these issues and their policy positions with younger voters will be paramount as younger voters make up more of the electorate and shift to the left. According to a poll released by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School earlier this year, 18- to 29-year-olds have shifted significantly over the past 10 years for government intervention in curbing climate change, issues of poverty, health care, gun laws and same-sex marriage.

“You can collapse each of those [issues] into even a bigger or broader issue, which is the concern about basic freedoms and rights being questioned or under attack, or outright taken away,” said John Della Volpe, polling director at Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

“I think that in large measure is really what young people are going to be grappling with in ’24,” Della Volpe said.

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