Young Voters Decided Georgia and Nevada Senate Races, Shaped Results
Lead Authors: Ruby Belle Booth, Kelly Beadle
Contributor: Alberto Medina
Updated November 15, 2022
CIRCLE’s exclusive analysis of youth votes cast and vote choice in major electoral battlegrounds shows that young people had a decisive impact in races across the country, notably in sunbelt states from Georgia to Arizona, and in the upper Midwest like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. We find:
- Young voters provided approximately 3 times the margin of victory in the razor-thin Nevada Senate race between Catherine Cortez-Masto and Adam Laxalt.
- In the Arizona governor’s race, where Democrat Katie Hobbs is projected to win by 20,000 votes, young people provided a net of 60,000 votes toward her over Republican Kari Lake.
- In the U.S. Senate race which is going to a December recount, young people contributed 116,000 net votes to Raphael Warnock, who garnered just 35,000 votes more than Herschel Walker in a race headed to a runoff.
- Young people contributed a significant portion of John Fetterman’s margin over Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, where they netted Fetterman 120,000 votes and his margin of victory was roughly 190,000.
- Young voters were pivotal in the Wisconsin Governor race, where they cast a net 79,000 voters for Governor Tony Evers, who defeated Tim Michels by a mere 89,000 votes.
About the Analysis: What do we mean by “net” votes? The difference between the votes cast in favor of each candidate. Meaning: if youth cast 100 total votes and they preferred one candidate 60% to 40%, they gave that candidate 20 net votes. Vote totals and victory margins were accurate as of Wednesday evening and are subject to change as votes are tallied and canvassed.
For this analysis we used data from AP VoteCast, which both nationally and in nearly all states reported a smaller youth share of the vote for Democrats than other data sources like the Edison Research exit poll. To provide the highest degree of certainty about young voters’ impact, these are the more conservative estimates of their electoral influence, which may have been even larger.
How Youth Swing Elections: “Net” Votes for Winner vs. Margin of Victory
Young people’s voices and votes matter in every single state and race across the country. However, in close elections decided by just a few percentage points, young voters can be more than influential: because of their often vastly different vote choice compared to older voters, they can be decisive. Before the election, CIRCLE’s Youth Electoral Significance Index ranked the races where youth had the highest potential to help decide election results.
Our analysis of estimated votes cast by youth reveals that young people cast many times more votes than the margin of victory in major 2022 battlegrounds. Because of their strong preference for Democratic candidates in those races, youth gave these candidates their strongest base of support and a number of “net” votes that far exceeds the final difference in each race.
More on some of the key races where youth had impact below:
Arizona is nearly finished tallying their ballots for the closely watched contests for Governor and U.S. Senate. On November 14, the Governor’s race was called for Democrat Katie Hobbs by just under 20,000 votes. Young people in Arizona favored Hobbs by a 20-point margin, yielding over 60,000 votes for Hobbs, over three times the winning margin of victory. Youth also played a factor in Democrat Mark Kelly’s victory over Republican Blake Masters in the U.S. Senate race.
Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez-Masto was declared the winner over Republican Adam Laxalt, winning reelection by under 8,000 votes. This made Cortez-Masto the 50th Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate for the next term, assuring Democratic control of the chamber. Young people in Nevada preferred Cortez-Masto by 21 points over her opponent, meaning that young people accounted for a net 27,000 votes to propel her to victory. In the Governor’s race, the Republican Joe Lombardo came out on top and fared slightly better with young voters.
For the second straight election cycle, the Georgia race for U.S. Senate will once again head to a runoff. Before the election, we had ranked it as the #1 Senate race in the country where youth could influence the result, and they accounted for an above-average 14% of the votes according to the AP VoteCast exit poll. As of Wednesday evening, incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock was leading Republican Hershel Walker by 35,000 votes. Young people favored Warnock 59% to 38%, while voters ages 30-44 backed Warnock by a smaller margin and older voters preferred Walker%. In the Governor’s race, young people also provided strong support for Democrat Stacey Abrams, who was defeated by Brian Kemp.
In the closely watched Pennsylvania Senate race, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman narrowly beat Dr. Mehmet Oz by 2.5 points. While the youth share of the vote in the state mirrored the national average, Keystone State youth favored Fetterman by 19 points, contributing 120,000 net votes to Fetterman’s 185,000-vote victory. Young people favored Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro by an even larger margin—26 points—over Doug Mastriano, contributing to Shapiro’s victory. Both races ranked highly in our index of projected youth impact.
As it has in previous cycles, Wisconsin elections were close at multiple levels of the ballot. Young voters were pivotal in Wisconsin, who cast a net 79,000 votes for Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who defeated Republican Tim Michels by a mere 89,000 votes. That Wisconsin Governor race was #1 in our ranking of potential youth influence. Young voters also favored Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes by 19 points (whereas voters aged 30-44 only favored Barnes by 6 points), helping him remain competitive with incumbent Republican Ron Johnson who won a very narrow race.
Registrations among 18-24 year olds in Kansas far exceeded their registration rates in 2018, in part due to mobilization around the abortion ballot measure that was included in their August primary. Young people answered questions about if they would show up with the same energy in the general with strong, influential support for Democrat Laura Kelly over her Republican opponent Derek Schmidt. Young voters made up 14% of the electorate, higher than the national average, and supported Kelly by 11 points, casting 11,000 net votes which bolstered her to a 15,000 vote victory.
Youth were also influential in states where Republicans came out on top. That includes Florida, where according to AP VoteCast young voters preferred Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, and North Carolina, where youth cast many times more total votes than the margin of victory even as their preferred candidate did not ultimately prevail—underscoring that investing in outreach that may increase youth participation by just a few percentage points can swing electoral outcomes.
Youth of Color Were Especially Influential
In states like Georgia and forthcoming results in Arizona, the votes of young people of color likely proved particularly critical to Democratic victories. While data on youth voting by race/ethnicity at the state level is not immediately available, nationally 87% of Black youth and 67% of Latino youth voted for a Democratic candidate in the U.S. House of Representatives, compared to 57% of white youth. Note: the age/race data is from the Edison Research exit poll, as it is not available from AP VoteCast.
Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona ranked highly in our Youth Electoral Significance Index in large part because of the large and influential populations of young people of color in their electorates. As Georgia goes to a runoff election next month, the Black youth vote will once again be critical in a race that could decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate as it did in 2020.