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Where the Youth Vote Can Be Decisive in the 2022 Elections

CIRCLE’s exclusive data-based rankings of the races where youth can influence results seek to expand conversations about young people’s role in elections.

Young people are vital participants in our democracy. In recent elections, tens of thousands of young people have acted as poll workers and volunteered for campaigns, millions have registered and convinced others to vote, and many more have advocated for issues that affect their daily lives. Youth are also a rising force at the ballot box who had historic voter turnout in 2018 and 2020. Yet too often they remain ignored by political campaigns and organizations who neglect or underinvest in youth outreach. When that happens, young people’s voices are excluded from conversations about issues that affect them, and their massive potential to shape election results goes unfulfilled.

CIRCLE’s 2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI) seeks to quantify that potential for electoral impact and to serve as a tool for stakeholders to direct their efforts and resources to reach diverse communities of youth across the country. The YESI includes two data-based rankings that incorporate more than a dozen indicators to highlight the top 10 Senate and Governor races where youth have an especially high likelihood to play a decisive role in 2022—if they are engaged.

Our top 10 Senate races in 2022 are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, and Colorado. The top 10 Governor races are: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Kansas, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, Maryland, Nevada, Maine, and Florida. In the Spring/Summer, as more states finish their redistricting process, we will add House races with high potential for youth impact.

2022 Youth Electoral Significance Index

Find the full rankings and read more about the factors that contribute to high potential for youth electoral impact in each race.

About the Rankings

CIRCLE has produced the YESI rankings since 2016, and they have been regularly used by campaigns and organizations to target and mobilize young voters in key states. In 2020, half of our top-ranked House races, Senate races, and presidential race states flipped parties. In nine of our top-10 2020 Senate races, the number of votes cast by youth far outpaced the race’s margin of victory–underscoring that youth can and did play a major role in close races.

Projected competitiveness is a major factor in our YESI rankings because the youth vote can be most decisive in races that may be decided by a few percentage points. But the rankings also incorporate data about the demographic makeup of communities, its recent history of voter participation, and existing resources and assets that may help engage youth—or present challenges to overcome. Read more about the YESI Methodology.

For example, Arizona and Nevada (which rank in both the Senate and Governor top 10s) feature a large proportion of Latino youth whose participation in 2022 may be decisive. Arizona has above average-rates of college enrollment and youth voter registration, Nevada ranks among the lowest in the nation on both indicators, which suggests that reaching and mobilizing young voters may require different strategies in each state.

The 2022 YESI rankings also highlight states, like North Carolina (#3 - Senate) and Georgia (#4 - Senate, #5 - Governor) where Black youth may have a decisive influence on elections. In Kansas (#3 - Governor), New Hampshire (#6 - Governor) and Maine (#9 - Governor), engaging rural youth will be especially critical—and an ongoing challenge, as we have chronicled that most rural youth live in civic deserts.

We encourage campaigns, organizations, and institutions who aim to reach and activate young voters in 2022 to explore these rankings. And while our Youth Electoral Significance Index focuses on short-term impact this cycle, the work to grow voters and shape a more diverse and equitable electorate is a long-term project that must be undertaken in every state across the country.