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Gen Z Voted at a Higher Rate in 2022 than Previous Generations in their First Midterm Election

Historical data from the past 50 years of midterm elections shows young people are engaged but there are still profound inequities in participation.

Author: Alberto Medina
Contributors: Katie Hilton, Sara Suzuki

At a Glance: Main Findings

An Engaged Generation

Based on Census data, Gen Z's voter turnout in 2022 was higher than that of Gen Xers and Millennials when they made up the age 18-24 voting bloc.

Racial Inequities Remain

In 2022, the voter turnout of white youth was between 7 and 11 points higher than that of other racial/ethnic groups of young people.

Educational Attainment Gap Grows

In 2022 there was a 30-point gap in voter turnout between youth with a Bachelor's degree and those with no college experience.

The 2022 election was the first midterm contest in which Generation Z made up the entire age 18-24 cohort of potential voters. A new CIRCLE analysis of Census data shows that youth voted at a higher rate in that election than Millennials, Gen X, and likely Boomers did in their generations’ first midterm election—highlighting the trend of historic political engagement by today’s youth. 

According to data from the Census Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration Supplement, 28.4% of youth ages 18-24 cast a ballot in 2022. That’s significantly higher than the 23% of Millennials who voted in 2006 and 23.5% of Gen Xers who voted in 1990, when each generation first made up the whole of that age group. It’s also higher than Baby Boomers’ 27.9% turnout in that generations’ second midterm election in 1974. (Census voting data from before 1972 is not available.) 

While other data sources, including CIRCLE’s own estimate of aggregated voter files, produce slightly different estimates of youth voter turnout, the Census CPS data is the only source that allows us to go back decades to identify historical trends and make intergenerational comparisons. 

Historical turnout data for youth ages 18-29 also confirm that today’s young people are among the most electorally engaged in recent decades. According to the Census data, 31% of young people under age 30 voted in 2022. That’s the third-highest youth turnout in a midterm cycle in the past 50 years, less than one percentage point behind 1982 and four-and-a-half points behind the all-time-high youth voter turnout in 2018.

Stubborn Inequities by Race Remain 

Even as the Census voting data reveals near-historic levels of youth political engagement, it also highlights major differences in participation by race/ethnicity. 

While youth have historically voted at higher rates than young people of color—though in some cycles, and as recently as 2014, Black youth turnout matched or slightly exceeded that of white youth. In 2022, however, that racial turnout gap was among the highest it has been in recent decades, with white youth turnout between 7 and 11 percentage points higher than AAPI, Black, and Latino youth.

In particular, the data reveals the steepest drops in participation from 2018 to 2022 among Black and Latino youth. As with the data for youth overall, other analyses and data sources produce different estimates but show the same trend of lower participation by people of color. CIRCLE research has often highlighted some of the ways in which these voting gaps highlight broader inequities in civic learning opportunities and access to support for becoming informed and engaged voters. 

Gap In Turnout by Educational Attainment Widens

For decades there have been drastic differences in youth voter turnout between young people with and without a college degree, and there is evidence that the gap has widened in recent elections. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, there was approximately a 20-point difference in turnout between young people whose highest level of educational attainment was a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree. In the last two midterm elections that gap has ballooned to 30 points, with half of 18- to-29-year-old college graduates voting in 2022, compared to just 20% of those with no college experience. The voting rates of youth who did not complete high school are even lower. 

These differences by educational attainment reflect and intersect with broader racial and socioeconomic inequities. They also highlight the importance of K-12 civic education that grows voters. Millions of young people will not go on to get a college degree; their primary and secondary education must start preparing youth to participate in our democracy long before they turn 18.  

Call to Action: Grow Voters to Eliminate Inequities 

The fact that youth turnout has been historically high in recent cycles, and that Gen Z is voting at a higher rate than previous generations in its first national elections, shows that today’s young people are interested and engaged in political participation. At the same time, the decades-long persistence of inequities by race/ethnicity and education show that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve a fully equitable and representative democracy. These major turnout differences will not be addressed or eliminated by one-off efforts; the CIRCLE Growing Voters framework highlights the various interconnected efforts that communities and institutions must engage in to give all young people pathways to becoming informed and engaged voters.

CIRCLE Growing Voters

Released in 2022, the CIRCLE Growing Voters report introduces a new framework to transform how communities and institutions prepare youth for democracy. It includes major recommendations for organizations across sectors to do this work more equitably and effectively.