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The Rise of the Young Voter

For the past few months commercials, ads, and lawn signs have contributed to the endless stream of political material following voters across the country as candidates geared up for the 2022 midterm elections. Whether it was in favor of one proposition or pleading to vote against another, the common theme in the flurry of information was motivating voters to turn out to their local polls. The importance of voter turnout in America has never been so important, and as the results of the most recent midterm elections have shown, young voters are now stepping up to make their voices heard at the polls. 

While the mark of our democracy in America is the ability of citizens to make their voices heard in government, voter turnout has fluctuated greatly over the years. Historically, the number of young voters (ages 18-29) has been much lower than the number of adult voters. According to the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout among adults in presidential elections has wavered from 50% to 70% from 1968-2020. The 2020 presidential election marked the highest voter turnout of the 21st century with 66.8% of citizens casting their ballots, and the highest number of young voters participated at 51.4%. Between 30% and 50% of young voters historically have turned out for presidential elections from 1972-2020. The midterm elections, which determine the members of congress, have regularly had less voter participation across the board. Among adults, voter participation in congressional elections has ranged from 40% to 60%. In young voters that number is even lower at around 20%. This year however, proved to be noticeably different. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University (CIRCLE), about 27% of young adults voted in this year’s midterm elections, the second highest youth turnout in a midterm election in three decades, the highest being in the 2018 midterms. This increase in young voters was key to shaping election outcomes across the country. 

Young voters contributed greatly to the somewhat shocking results that came out of the midterm elections. The midterm elections determine the makeup of the two parts of congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. This year, Republicans were expected to sweep both the House and Senate, with many officials forecasting a “Red Wave.” Results, however, proved to be much closer than many were expecting. While Republicans won the majority in the House, it was a much smaller majority than anticipated, with the Republicans holding 220 seats to the Democrats’ 213. So far in the Senate race, Democrats hold a 50 to 49 seat lead. The last Senate race will be held in Georgia on December 6 in a runoff election. This upset was due in large part to the contributions of young voters. According to CIRCLE, young people favored Democratic candidates by a 28 point margin. This contributed to closer races across many battleground states, allowing Democrats to gain headway. Young voters were eager to make their voices heard in the midterm elections, and allowed for future voters to see the potential impact of their viewpoints.

Santa Barbara High School has long held the tradition of holding elections to determine the members of student government. Students get the opportunity to either run for positions in ASB or vote for said candidates. These school elections promote participation in democracy and allow for students to see the direct impact of casting their ballot. Senior Ashley Birch said that while she has not yet registered to vote, she thinks it’s “very important” for young people like herself to vote. When asked how voting in student elections has impacted her ideas on voting, she responded, “I think it’s helped to show how participation is a big part of outcomes/results, as well as gives me … an idea (of) how voting actually works.” Birch also said that the SBHS could better prepare students to vote by showing students how to register and sharing the importance of voting during election times. SBHS encourages students to vote through schoolwide elections, increasing the chances for students to use their voice and become future voters in real world elections. 

While young voters have historically lacked the presence in elections that adults have had, this year’s midterm elections proved to be noticeably different. Young voters made an extensive impact on the outcomes of this year’s election, and proved that they were willing to make their voices heard for issues that mattered to them. Student elections, like those at SBHS, provide students and young adults with the motivation and preparation needed to become active members of democracy. Though there are still many ways that young voters can improve their participation in elections, the 2022 midterm elections showed a step in the right direction.


  • Mary Moses

    Mary Moses is a junior at Santa Barbara High School and has been a member of The Forge for three years. She also plays for the tennis team and enjoys reading, going to the beach, and spending time with friends in her free time.

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