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Youth Can Have a Decisive Role in 2022 Midterms in Georgia

Young people of color are critical in this electoral battleground, but new voting laws pose challenges to equitable participation.

According to CIRCLE’s Youth Election Significance Index (YESI), Georgia is one of the top states where young people may have a significant impact on the outcomes of the 2022 midterm elections: it ranks 1st among Senate races and 5th among gubernatorial races. CIRCLE’s YESI looks at multiple factors to determine the rankings, including past youth voter turnout, election policies that make it easier to register and vote, the presence of “civic infrastructure” like youth-serving nonprofits, and the races’ competitiveness. Taken together, these factors paint a picture of how much young people could sway the results in a state’s elections, especially if local stakeholders give young people the information and support they need to harness their political power.  

This analysis examines what makes young voters in Georgia such a potentially influential electoral force. Our key findings include: 

  • Recent youth voter turnout in Georgia has been high: in the 2018 midterms, young Georgians turned out by 6 percentage points more than the national average and had a high voter registration rate. 
  • Youth vote choice has been critical in close elections: Young people in the state, especially Black youth, have favored Democratic candidates by wide margins and shaped election results in 2020. 
  • A diverse young population—potentially harmed by voting laws: Almost half of Georgia’s young people are youth of color, yet new and existing voter suppression policies target their electoral power. 

A Diverse and Engaged Youth Population  

Young voters in Georgia make up 17% of the state’s voting population—slightly above the national average—and, especially since 2018, have turned out in large numbers. In 2020, youth turnout was at 51%, just above the national average and a 14 point increase from 2016 youth voter turnout in the state.

Young people of color make up almost half (46%) of Georgia's youth population, and make up 11% of the total voting-age population in the state. Recent elections in Georgia have been won by narrow margins: in 2020, the presidential election was decided by less than 1 percentage point, and both Senate races were close enough to trigger a run-off. That’s a recipe for electoral power: a large, diverse youth population that tends to vote very differently than older parts of the electorate in this historically red-leaning state where races can be decided by just a few thousand votes.

2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index

CIRCLE's 2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI) ranks the Senate, House, and Governor races where young people have the highest potential to influence the results this November.

These diverse young people have been exercising their electoral power. While, nationally, young people of color voted at lower rates than white youth in 2020, four of the six most diverse counties in Georgia (according to the 2020 census’ Diversity Index) youth turnout was higher than in the state as a whole. Those four counties all surround or encompass the Atlanta area and have large suburban and/or urban Asian, Latino, and Black populations.

The two highly diverse counties where turnout was lower (Liberty and Stewart) are both much smaller, have rural designations (the former based on military installation exclusion clauses), and have large Black and Latino populations. CIRCLE research has explored inequities in access to voting information and support for rural youth, especially rural youth of color. The data from Georgia underscores the importance of targeting outreach to these rural youth who may live in civic deserts and other young people from historically underserved communities.

Black youth—who make up about 9% of the total electorate—are a major force in Georgia elections, but both Asian and Latino youth are increasingly influential. The Latino electorate in Georgia grew by 58% between 2016 and 2020, and now makes up 4.1% of all Georgia voters. The majority of those Latino voters are younger, especially ages 25-29. Turnout among Asian Americans has also been growing. Between 2016 and 2020, Georgia saw an 84% increase in Asian American turnout, and nationally Asian youth increased their turnout more than any other racial/ethnic group. This surge in participation happened despite the fact that nationally Asian American youth were contacted by parties and campaigns at the lowest rate, which suggests that community outreach and peer-to-peer organizing was and could be key with this population.

Nearly two in five nonprofits in Georgia are focused on serving youth, and many organizations are working hard on the ground to support young, diverse voters in 2022. That may be especially critical for young voters of color whose participation can be affected by restrictive voting policies.

Past Turnout Highlights the Importance of Contacting Undermobilized Voters

Nationally, 28% of young people voted in the 2018 midterms, but youth turnout in Georgia was well above-average: 34%, a major increase from a 13% youth turnout rate in 2014. In addition, 84% were registered to vote in 2018. That means over two-thirds of registered youth in Georgia did not vote in 2018, and even more eligible young people were not registered at all. With support and outreach from campaigns and organizations, these undermobilized voters could show up at the ballot box this November.

The 2022 Georgia gubernatorial election will be a rematch of that high-turnout 2018 race between incumbent Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is often credited with helping to build a younger, more diverse electorate in Georgia. In 2018, Kemp won by less than 2 percentage points, but CIRCLE research highlighted that young voters, especially youth of color, favored Abrams in this race. In counties with a larger proportion of youth, Abrams performed +7 percentage points better than her average support across the state. She fared even better—22 points above her average—in counties with high percentages of youth and of people of color.

Young Georgians, especially Black youth, also had a major impact on the 2020 Senate runoff elections held in January 2021—the outcome of which effectively decided control of the U.S. Senate and shaped the national political climate in the last two years. Young people overwhelmingly supported the democratic candidates in the Senate runoff elections: in both, around 63% of 18- to 29-year-olds supported Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and around 36% supported Republican challengers Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Young Black voters, who make up over 500,000 of Georgia’s registered voters, shaped that youth vote choice: 91% of Black youth supported Warnock and Ossoff, compared to only 44% and 41%, respectively, of white youth.

That vote choice was critical in two close races, and youth participation in those elections speaks to the effectiveness of youth outreach. CIRCLE’s analysis showed that 16% of all youth (and 23% of Black youth) who voted in the Senate runoffs in January had not voted in the November general election. That suggests organizations made concerted efforts to expand the electorate in just a few short months, and that those efforts worked—a powerful lesson for the 2022 election cycle.

Voter Suppression Could Limit Youth Impact

Outreach and support for youth is especially important in a state where voter suppression can disproportionately affect communities of color. Georgia has several facilitative voting laws that support young voters (and can have a positive effect on youth registration and turnout, including automatic voter registration, pre-registration, and online voter registration. However, Georgia also has many policies that make it harder for people, especially youth and people of color, to cast a ballot. These include voter roll purges, early registration deadlines, and the continuous shuttering of polling places. 

The passage of SB202 may further restrict access to voting in Georgia this November. This law makes absentee voting harder by shortening timelines to request and fill out one’s ballot, limiting the number of and access to drop boxes (over 330 previously used drop boxes will not be in use in 2022), and adds identification requirements. The decrease in drop boxes will mostly impact the state’s populous Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett counties surrounding Atlanta where many young people of color live. Beyond that, boxes now must be kept within early polling locations, meaning they will only be accessible during the hours that early voting is occurring, which the bill also limited.

Election Laws Are Critical to Growing Voters

Our CIRCLE Growing Voters report and framework highlights the importance of election policies that make it easier for all youth to register, vote, and participate in democracy. Conversely, policies that make it harder for some communities to vote can make young people feel like they're not welcome in the process.

Access to early voting was also limited by the new law, which curbs polling places’ ability to set their own early voting hours, prohibits early voting on state holidays (including Columbus/Indigenous Peoples' Day when much of early voting has traditionally taken place), and ends the use of mobile voting units which had served Fulton county. The law also bans individuals and organizations from passing out food and water to people waiting in line on Election Day.

Other provisions in the new law do expand opportunities to vote in some places, such as by increasing access to early voting in rural counties. But, on balance, this new slate of rules is likely to make it harder to vote, especially in historically marginalized communities. That makes it even more critical that these new policies, deadlines, locations, and restrictions are clearly communicated to young voters, both newly eligible voters and those who may have voted under different rules just a few years ago. That’s doubly true for young voters of color who, because of where many of them live, will be most impacted by the effects of this law.

Beyond sharing the logistics and practicalities of voting, campaigns and organizations may have to redouble their efforts to communicate to youth that their voices and participation are welcome and important. Restrictive election policies can send a message to young people that their votes are unwanted; that message must be countered by communities and institutions that can provide pathways and encouragement for youth to participate. Given the massive potential for Georgia youth to have a decisive impact on election results, both partisan and nonpartisan organizations should be motivated to reach and engage these young people in 2022 and beyond.


Author: Ruby Belle Booth