Youth More Optimistic about Democracy than Older Voters, Less Inclined to Identify with Major Parties
Lead Author: Kelly Beadle
Contributors: Ruby Belle Booth, Alberto Medina
Concerns about the health of American democracy, and the security and legitimacy of elections, have been central to American politics in recent years. That has included several states changing their election laws and policies—some to expand access to the ballot box, but others to restrict it. After 2020, our polling found that 50% of young Trump voters and 32% of young Biden voters said it was “somewhat” or “very” likely that the U.S. would no longer hold “free and fair elections.”
Our analysis of the National Election Pool Survey conducted by Edison Research allows us to get a sense of how young people (ages 18-29) are feeling now about the state of democracy, about the country, and about the major political parties. We find:
- Young people have higher faith in democratic institutions and are more optimistic about the country than older voters
- Young people are more likely than older voters to identify as independent or with neither major party, but those who do affiliate with one prefer the Democratic Party by a large margin
- Young voters were the age group most likely to say that the Republican Party is too extreme, and least likely to say the same about the Democratic Party.
Youth Trust Democracy and Elections More than Older Voters
While the majority of all voters, regardless of age, feel that our democracy is threatened, young voters in 2022 were slightly more likely to feel like it is “very” or “somewhat” secure (35%). That sentiment is much more prevalent among young men (47%) than young women (24%)—though it’s worth noting that young white men were overrepresented and data on young Black and Latino men was not available.
We previously reported that all youth, but especially young women, cited abortion as the top issue influencing their 2022 midterm vote choice. Given this large gender gap in trust, and the fact that a majority of young women want abortion to be legal, it is possible that some young women’s view of democracy includes the protection of a right that they feel is threatened.
In a shift from what many youth reported after a 2020 election that was marked by widespread allegations of fraud, young voters in 2022 report high levels of confidence in elections (82%), similar to or higher than other age groups. Young men (84%) and Latino youth (88%) were even more likely than all young voters to say they are confident in elections. Young women who haven’t obtained a college degree were slightly less likely to say that they have confidence in elections, but nearly three in four (73%) do. Youth were also the most likely age group to say that they believe President Biden’s election in 2020 was legitimate: 71% said so, compared to 25% who do not believe so. Among older voters, at least a third said that the 2020 presidential election was not legitimate.
That said, because this data reflects only the views of young people who voted in the 2022 midterm elections, it’s possible that this is a self-selecting group and that some youth who lost their trust in elections may not have participated. We also did not have data for every subgroup of youth by race, gender, and education.
The fact that young people have higher levels of faith in democracy may also be reflected in their optimism for the future of the country. When asked about how things are going in the country today, young people are the age group least likely to say they are angry (26%), and most likely to be satisfied (23%). Latino youth were even more likely to say they’re satisfied with the direction of the country: one-third of those in the survey said that they are satisfied with the direction of the country.
Notably, young men report much higher levels of dissatisfaction (53%). Given the data available, that is likely to especially reflect the views of young white men.
Youth Are Less Committed to Political Parties
While young people have relatively more positive views of democracy than older voters, they are less likely to identify with one of the two major parties. They report high shares of people who do not identify with either political party. Neary two in five youth (38%) said they identify as either Independents or “something else,” compared to 35% of the 30-44 age group and 30% or fewer of older voters.
Young men and youth in urban areas (both 42%) were even more likely to identify as Independent or as something else. In addition, almost one in four 18- to 29-year-olds (23%) do not have favorable ratings of either major political party; that number is 13% or lower for other age groups.
Among those who did identify with a political party, young people were much more likely to identify as Democrats (40%) than as Republicans (22%). Young women (46%), Latino youth (44%) and especially Black youth (62%) were even more likely than youth overall to identify as Democrats. Only 4% of Black youth said they identify as Republicans.
Additionally, young voters were more likely than older voters to say the Republican Party is too extreme (63%), and least likely to say that about the Democratic Party (37%). At the same time, when asked whether “both” or “neither” political party was too extreme, young voters were also the age group most likely to say neither. Latino youth were especially likely to respond they think neither party is too extreme.
Young voters’ belief in democracy and trust in elections is a positive sign for their civic engagement as voters and leaders, and the fact that they report higher trust and optimism than older voters belies some stereotypes about youth as cynical or apathetic. Their independent streak when it comes to party affiliation means that the Democratic and Republican parties should neither take young people’s votes for granted nor give up on being able to earn them, though their view of the Republican Party as too extreme may signal that they expect candidates and parties to take positions on issues that match their own values and priorities.
About the Analysis: Our analysis is based on data from the National Election Pool Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research. In the United States a total of 18,571 voters who cast ballots on Election Day were interviewed at 241 Election Day polling places and 72 early in-person voting locations. This survey also includes 1,425 absentee and/or early voters interviewed by telephone using a registration-based sample (RBS). The National Election Pool members (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC) prepared the questionnaire. An upper bound on the error due to sampling for a 95% confidence interval is +/- 4%. Data on smaller subsamples may have larger margins of error.
More 2022 Election Research
Find all of our data and analysis on young voters' participation and impact in the midterms on our 2022 election page.