How much does the rumored “blue wave” rely on the youth vote? This is of particular concern for Democrats when it comes to the 18-29 demographic which regularly leans toward the progressive side these days. If a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic is any indication, there’s plenty to worry about. (I actually picked this up from a Vox article, but the poll seems legitimate.) While the youngest voters seem to be quite vocal out on the protest beat, fewer than a third of them are sure that they’ll actually show up on election day.
Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say they are sure to vote this year (59% vs. 56%). In 2014, Republicans held a considerable edge. More than two-thirds (68%) of Republicans, compared to only about half (51%) of Democrats, said they were absolutely certain to vote in 2014.
The generation gap in reported voting intent is massive. Only 28% of young adults say they are absolutely certain they will vote in the 2018 election compared to 74% of seniors.
Notably, white (56%) and black (52%) Americans are about equally likely to say they are absolutely certain to vote this year. Fewer than one-third (31%) of Hispanic Americans report being absolutely certain about casting a ballot in the coming election.
This survey doesn’t seem to be an outlier either. Another poll from the AP found that 32% of younger Americans were sure to vote. (The small difference might be due, at least in part, to the fact that this poll was counting ages 18 to 34 rather than 18 to 29.)
So who is more likely to vote? As usual, it’s the older voters, a pattern which tends to hold true in most midterm races where overall participation is generally down. In statewide Senate races this doesn’t seem to have quite as much effect, but in the more marginal House contests where a difference of a few thousand ballots can decide the race, lower turnout increases the level of unpredictability. And if you can’t rely on the youngest voters to show up you’re going to see a tilt in a more conservative direction.
These results represent a shift from as recently as April, when the Washington Post reported that under-35 voting enthusiasm was still below half (44%) but favoring Democrats and better than what we’re seeing this week.
So what explains it? We’ve discussed this question here before, but a lot of it really seems to be coming down to the “burnout” factor. There’s so much drama over politics and the news cycle is so consistently full out outrage that people seem to be increasingly tuning out. As the old saying goes, when everything is an outrage, nothing is outrageous. And with the youngest voters typically being the hardest to get out to the polls to begin with, it’s not all that crazy to think that turnout will be down once again this November.