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Youth in 2022: Concerned about Issues but Neglected by Campaigns

Young people are concerned about a wide range of issues, but many aren’t hearing from campaigns, lack information, and face barriers to voting.

Lead authors: Alberto Medina, Peter de Guzman, Kelly Siegel-Stechler, Kelly Beadle
Contributors: Abby Kiesa, Ruby Belle Booth


 

Young people had a major impact on the 2022 midterm elections, turning out at near-record numbers and deciding key races. That impact is even more noteworthy considering that only about half of youth were contacted about the election, that many faced barriers to registering or casting a ballot, and that parties are leaving critical votes on the table by not ensuring that youth have all the information they need to vote.

These key insights about young people and the 2022 midterms come from CIRCLE’s exclusive post-election survey of youth ages 18-29. While in the days and weeks following last month’s midterms we shared early analysis of young people’s participation and impact on the election based on the National Election Pool survey conducted by Edison Research, that data only includes youth who cast a ballot. Our comprehensive survey of youth also allows us to understand the view and experiences of young people who did not vote in 2022, which is key to improving their engagement in future elections. It also highlights how parties and campaigns are failing to engage many youth in politics because they’re not reaching out to them with information and motivation to participate.

  • Youth Lack Information, Face Barriers to Vote: Nearly a third of young people who did not vote in 2022 said either they didn’t have enough information about the candidates or where to vote  (21%), or said they had problems with in-person or absentee voting (9%). White and Latino youth were more likely than other youth to say they lacked information. 
  • One in Five Youth Had Trouble Registering: 19% of youth who did not register to vote said that they missed the registration deadline, had trouble with their voter registration application, or did not know how to register to vote.
  • Contact Matters, But is Lacking: About half (54%) of youth were contacted by any type of political party or organization in 2022 about the election, and youth without college experience were less likely to be contacted. Young people who said they were contacted were 29-points more likely to report that they voted than those who were not contacted.
  • Unaffiliated Youth the Most Disengaged: The plurality of young people who didn’t vote in 2022 said they don’t align strongly with either major political party (38%). Among young non-voters who do align with a party, 26% identify more with Democrats and 24% with Republicans.
  • Some 2020 Voters Didn’t Show Up, Some New Voters Did: 22% of young people who voted in the 2020 presidential election did not vote in 2022. By contrast, 13% of youth who were old enough to vote in 2020 but did not, did cast a ballot in 2022.

Barriers to Voting and Lack of Information Affect Youth

Based on data immediately available after the election, CIRCLE estimated that 27% of young people voted in the 2022 midterms. Our research has consistently found that, for many youth who don’t end up casting a ballot, a lack of access and barriers to voting can play a role. This survey underscores those barriers also shaped youth engagement in 2022.

Among respondents who said they were not registered to vote in 2022, more than a quarter said it was because they did not have time (17%) or missed the deadline (10%). Our research has previously explored the positive impact of laws like pre-registration, automatic voter registration, and same day registration that can address some of these barriers to participation, but these policies are not available everywhere.

Among youth in our survey who did not vote (whether or not they were registered), a lack of time or information also played a role, as did some problems with the voting process. More than a third of youth (37%) said they forgot or were too busy to vote—higher than the percentage of youth (30%) who said they did not think their vote was important. In addition, 21% said they didn’t have enough information about the candidates or the voting process. About 1 in 10 youth reported having problems with in-person voting (6%) or with their absentee ballot (3%).

There were some differences by race/ethnicity. Half of Asian youth who did not cast a ballot said that they were too busy to vote—far higher than any other group. Young white non-voters (20%) and, especially, young Latinos (24%) were more likely than Asian and Black youth to say that they didn’t have enough information.

Black youth who did not vote were most likely (43%) to say that voting was not important to them or they did not think their vote mattered. Our research has found that Black youth and other youth of color are less likely to have opportunities for learning and engagement that connect their concerns and communities to electoral participation.

Lack of Outreach from Campaigns and Organizations Leaves Votes on the Table

One reason young people may be unsure about the importance of their vote or have insufficient information about the election is a lack of outreach from campaigns and organizations. 

Our research has consistently shown that outreach correlates with higher youth voting, and this new survey suggests that was the case once again in the 2022 midterms. There was a 29-point gap in self-reported voter turnout between young people who were contacted at least once and those who were not contacted at all. 

Almost half of all young people in our survey (46%) said they were not contacted by any type of organization, candidate, or party about the elections this year. More than 6 in 10 (62%) of respondents in our survey said they were never contacted this year by the Democratic Party or a Democratic campaign, and 67% said the same about Republicans.

Some youth were contacted by different types of institutions beyond the two main parties, including national organizations (26%), community organizations (27%), and local youth groups (14%). Notably, Black youth were more likely than respondents of other racial/ethnic groups to be contacted by local or national organizations, whose outreach can be critical for young people of color.

While youth of different races/ethnicities were about as likely to report being contacted by Democrats, Latino youth were less likely to hear from Republicans. There were large differences by educational attainment: compared to youth without any college experience, youth with some college experience were 17 percentage points more likely to hear from Democrats and 12 points more likely to hear from Republicans 

That may be partly due to the fact that young people with college experience vote at higher rates, and campaigns often rely on party registration lists and voter files to conduct outreach. Many organizations also focus their youth outreach on campus to the exclusion of young people who are not in college, and who our previous analysis found were significantly underrepresented among young voters in 2022.

That lack of outreach from campaigns and organizations can result in a lack of information or motivation that many youth in our survey cited as reason for not voting. More than 2 in 5 young respondents in our survey (42%) said they had not heard much, or nothing at all, about their Congressional elections, and more than a third (36%) said the same about the voting process.

Youth Who Didn’t Vote More Likely to Be Unaligned with a Party

Our survey data also suggests that, by not reaching out to youth, campaigns and organizations on all sides may be leaving critical votes on the table. The plurality (38%) of young people in our survey who said they did not cast a ballot said that they did not align or identify with either major political party. Young people are generally more likely to be unaffiliated than older adults, but the independent streak of youth who didn’t cast a ballot in particular suggests that there are missed opportunities for both parties to make their case to young people and bring new supporters into the fold.

Among youth who did not vote but do feel that they identify with a major party, 46% said they feel more aligned with Democrats, and 43% with Republicans. That narrow partisan gap is a far-cry from the 28-point difference in vote choice among youth who did cast a ballot, according to data from the National Election Pool survey by Edison Research.

These findings underscore that, when it comes to young voters, the question is often not whether they can be persuaded to back a different party or candidate (less than 1% of respondents in our survey who voted in both 2020 and in 2022 voted for a different party in those elections), but whether they will be engaged, motivated, and mobilized by campaigns and organizations.

Issues and Priorities: Engaging Young Voters in 2024 and Beyond

Participation across all age groups is lower in midterm cycles than in presidential elections, and according to our survey 22% of youth who reported voting in 2020 said they did not vote in 2022. On the other hand, 13% of young people who had been eligible to vote in 2020 but did not do so, did cast a ballot this year.

In this and in every election, many young people were motivated to vote because of the issues they care about. In our post-election analysis based on exit poll data, we highlighted that abortion was the top issue influencing who young voters chose to supported in the 2022 midterms.

Our survey, which asks about a broader range of issues than the exit poll, paints a more comprehensive picture of young people’s priorities and concerns. We asked respondents to select the three most important issues that they are most concerned about: 41% selected inflation/gas prices, 29% abortion, 25% jobs that pay a living wage, 23% climate change, and 19% gun violence.

Young people with different identities and experiences also prioritize issues differently, and that is also reflected in our survey:

  • Youth without college experience were more likely to prioritize jobs that pay a living wage and racism, while youth with college experience were more likely to select abortion and climate among their top 3 issues.
  • Young women were more than twice as likely as young men to select abortion. On the other hand, young men were more likely than young women to select inflation/gas prices and crime/safety.
  • Asian youth were most likely to select climate, health care costs, and housing costs among their top 3 issues.
  • Black youth were twice as likely to select racism as youth overall: 36% vs. 18%. They were also more likely to cite student loan debt/college affordability as a concern. Black youth were least likely to choose inflation/gas prices, climate change, and immigration among their priorities.
  • Young Latinos were nearly twice as likely to select immigration as one of their top issues, and the least likely to choose student loan debt/college affordability
  • White youth were more likely to choose inflation/gas prices as one of their three biggest concerns. The same was true of abortion. White youth were the least likely to select racism and, notably, were less likely than youth of color to say crime was one of their top issues.

There was also a connection between whether young people voted and the issues they prioritized. Youth in our survey who reported that they cast a ballot were more likely to select abortion, climate change, gun violence, and student loan debt among their top 3 issues. Youth who did not vote were more likely to prioritize jobs that pay a living wage, housing costs, and racism.

Some of those connections between whether youth voted and the issues they prioritized may be due to other dynamics in participation: for example, youth without college experience are less likely to vote and, according to our survey, more likely to say jobs were a top issue. And Black youth, who according to our previous research were underrepresented in the electorate, were much more likely to name racism one of their top concerns. 

Learning Lessons and Growing Voters

This is the first in a series of analyses based on our post-election survey that we will publish throughout 2023. The data underscores some of the critical lessons from our recent research on young people’s political participation; notably, how barriers to voting, a lack of information, and a lack of outreach from campaigns are ongoing challenges to engaging a broader youth electorate. It also highlights key inequities in outreach and electoral learning opportunities for groups like youth without college experience that are reflected in their underrepresentation at the ballot box.

As parties, campaigns, and organizations continue to reflect on the results of the 2022 midterms, this research also points to major implications for election outcomes. It is clear that there is a large group of youth who remain unengaged, but could be informed and energized, and that these youth are more likely to be unaligned with a political party and more evenly split in their partisan leaning than youth who are turning out to vote. That suggest there’s opportunities for both major parties and for organizations on all sides of the political spectrum to engage and persuade new voters.

Doing so effectively and equitably will require adopting transformative new approaches to how we prepare young people for democratic participation. We outline what those transformations must look like in our CIRCLE Growing Voters report, and look forward to using this new data on young voters to inform the implementation of that framework.

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.

About the Survey: The survey was developed by CIRCLE at Tufts University, and the polling firm Ipsos collected the data from their nationally representative panel of respondents and a sample of people recruited for this survey between November 9 and November 30, 2022. The study involved an online surveyed a total of 2,018 self-reported U.S. citizens ages 18 to 29 in the United States. The margin of error is +/- 2.2 percentage points. Unless mentioned otherwise, data are for all 18- to 29-year-olds in our sample.