Young people are often characterized as politically disengaged. They vote at lower rates than older residents and are even less likely to have registered.
Something changed, though, during the 2018 midterms. Californians under the age of 44 voted at higher rates than during the two previous midterm elections, according to new data released by the Census.
The uptick in political participation mirrors the voting patterns of older age groups but also represents a significant leap for millennials, closing the yawning gap between young and old.
Turnout was widely expected to be historic in part because of disapproval President Trump. The census estimated nearly 4 million more Californians voted in the 2018 midterms compared with 2014 – about 52 percent of the voting age population.
Turnout for black and Latino voters increased more than any other racial or ethnic group. The 25-to-34 and the 35-to-44 age groups each saw a 26 percent surge in participation, the largest jump for any age group.
“We are seeing the Latino numbers increasing – as a percentage – quicker than other groups but it’s because they were lower,” said Matt Barreto, a professor at UCLA and an expert on Latino voting patterns. “African Americans have always had higher turnout rates than Latinos, but that’s explained by political mobilization and a higher sense of efficacy.”
The data was also filled with a number of predictable conclusions. A larger share of women voted than men. White voters headed to the polls in greater numbers than all other racial and ethnic groups. Older voters over the age of 65 outperformed everyone else.
In line with some expectations, the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who voted nearly doubled compared with the 2014 midterms and outpaced turnout for the 2010 election, the data shows. But was it the cause of the blue wave that swept many Democrats into office?
Laura Stoker, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies political attitudes and behavior, is not wholly convinced. She cautioned not to put too much stock into the early figures without closer analysis.
Besides, Stoker and other experts said, the younger voting groups have more room to fluctuate.
“When there is a high-stimulus election, the effects will always be larger among people who have a low probability of turnout,” Stoker said. “If you have a lot of room to improve it’s easier to improve than if you have a little room.”
The figures are based on surveyed estimates, other experts warned.
“One of the problems of the census data is that the denominator – how many Latinos were eligible – it’s a statistical guess. It comes from the American Community Survey,” said Paul Mitchell, a consultant and vice president of Political Data Inc.
In California, there were double-digit gains across every racial and ethnic group compared to the last midterm election. The estimates, nevertheless, offer a glimpse into voting behavior and hint at what might happen in 2020 if the electorate remains energized.