As one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country, young voters on Tuesday made their influence clear: The midterms saw the country’s highest youth-voter turnout in 25 years, with 31 percent of youth ages 18 to 29 coming out to vote—largely for Democrats.
And it made a difference. According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), young people’s overwhelming preference for blue “almost certainly helped the Democratic Party take control of the House of Representatives.”
None of this was an accident. Across the country, young people mobilized furiously, from registering their peers to knocking on doors for candidates they believed in coast to coast. The Parkland students crossed the country to urge fellow first-time voters to “Vote for Our Lives.” Young people across the country organized over 500 school walkouts on Election Day.
We asked students across the country to comment on the outcome of the midterms. For them, these results are not just a move in a theoretical chess game, or a race to consolidate power—it’s the future they will have to live in.
In the wake of the 2018 midterm elections, where unreasonably long lines and registration holds and purges were the results of quiet attempts at voter suppression, the 2013 evisceration of the Voting Rights Act is especially relevant. I studied the critical importance of the VRA in high school, only for the Supreme Court to gut it a year after I graduated. Going forward, I think young people should focus organizing and advocacy efforts on improving and protecting the right to vote for all citizens. This will require a long-term perspective, but we are already making some progress in the right direction.
A number of very exciting criminal-justice reforms succeeded through ballot initiatives on Tuesday, a few of which support restoring voting rights to those locked in the criminal-justice system. In a ballot initiative, Florida restored voting rights to over 1 million people who had been disenfranchised after being convicted of a felony. This is really huge, and we might have seen a different outcome in that state’s gubernatorial race had those citizens (about 10 percent of the state’s adult population) been able to vote. There are many other states where people convicted of felonies or specific violent crimes are not allowed to vote or must apply to have their voting rights restored—this is bad for democracy, especially given what we know about race- and class-based inequalities in our justice system.
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We need to fight against felon disenfranchisement and voter-suppression tactics, including voter-ID laws, which are often enforced in a discriminatory manner, and for voting reforms like ranked-choice voting, fair districts, and making Election Day a national holiday, which will boost turnout and help make every vote count. —Jordana Rosenfeld, 2018 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh
Ron DeSantis wins governor of Florida. Red prevails again—by exactly 1 percent. In Florida, it seems 51 percent of the population likes to hear their leaders talk about issues, instead of acting on them. Fifty-one percent of the state’s population supports someone who doesn’t believe in the science behind climate change. Fifty-one percent has put our state’s environment on the bottom of its to-do list.
If the environment isn’t addressed now, there likely will be no reversing the catastrophic events that are to come for Florida. This puts the future of Florida in the hands of the youth. Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis talked a big game about wanting to save the Everglades. Yet where are the legitimate plans to back that up?
What about the red tide washing dead wildlife up on our beaches? What about the toxic green algae morphing our lakes into mossy aquatic cemeteries? What about rising sea levels shrinking our coastlines?
A staunch Trump supporter, DeSantis doesn’t seem to care about the real problems ahead for Florida. His campaign was so focused on slandering his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, that he forgot to share his plans to raise Florida up.
I’m intrigued and uneasy about the future of the state I’ve always called home. Get your floaties, Floridians, we’re going down. —Zoe Zbar, University of South Florida
The energy around this election felt different this year—different than how it felt in 2016. In the days before the election, I could sense that people were excited to vote in a way that I had not seen since President Obama was on the ballot.
And although voters also had the opportunity to make history with their votes this year—by electing the first black woman governor in history, the first black governor in Florida, etc. It seemed bigger than that. It was about the issues.
It was about students refusing to sit by and watch another classmate fall victim to gun violence. It was about the family and friends of the formerly incarcerated declaring that their loved ones should not be forever disenfranchised because of their worst mistakes. It was about the descendants of the enslaved pushing back against the lie of voter fraud and attempts to suppress their votes.
On Facebook, I noticed friends who were old enough to vote during the last presidential election posting about how they were excited to vote for the first time this year. I saw others encouraging their friends to vote, offering to give rides to the polls, and posting selfies of themselves serving as election-protection monitors at the early hours of the morning on Election Day.
I knew that no matter how the results turned out, our generation was ready for this long fight ahead. —Rebekah Barber, 2016 graduate of North Carolina Central University
On November 6, as I waited in line at my local fairgrounds for my turn to vote, I listened as two women chatted in front of me. As I eavesdropped, one sentence really struck me. One woman asked, “Where are all these young Democrats who were supposedly so excited to get out and vote?”
It’s true: The election results are a loss for Hoosier Democrats. As much as I wanted it to turn out differently, Indiana is an historically Republican-leaning state. But across the nation this midterm election, we did have some small victories.
For example, here in Indiana, Democrat J.D. Ford became the first openly gay man elected to the Indiana General Assembly. Voting rights were restored to over 1.4 million people in Florida. Democrats won control of the House.
So to the two women in front of me: You’re wrong. We might be voting early or sending in absentee ballots, but we’re here, letting our voices be heard. The victories might be small, but we’ll continue working toward a brighter future. —Emily Sabens, Ball State University
Fossil-fuel companies are poisoning my generation’s future. On Tuesday, clean-energy ballot measures fell, one by one. In Colorado, big oil spent $41 million to defeat Proposition 112, which would have banned fracking on large swaths of land. In Washington, voters rejected what would have been the nation’s first carbon tax, after fossil-fuel interests spent $31.5 million against it. Environmental measures in Arizona, Alaska, and Montana met similar fates. Meanwhile, the Democrats—nominally the party of green climate policy—lack a comprehensive plan to transition to renewable energy. In June, the Democratic National Committee took a step in the right direction by banning donations from fossil-fuel interests. But, in a moment emblematic of establishment inertia on climate change, DNC Chair Tom Perez pushed through a resolution two months later undoing the commitment.
My hope lies with student activists in the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots coalition of young people working to stop climate change. At Brown University (where I’m a student), they are pressuring Perez, a Brown alumnus and fellow at the university’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, to create a Democratic Party for the people. This means rejecting the influence of companies who value profit over our collective future. It means fighting for a “just transition” to renewable energy through a Green New Deal that would create jobs while slashing emissions. Sunrise rejects an incrementalist approach to the climate crisis and demands bold and immediate action from Democratic leaders now in control of the House. Their platform presents an antidote to the poisonous politics of the fossil-fuel lobby. I hope the Democratic leadership will listen. —Lucas Smolcic Larson, Brown University
In the political establishment’s world, where the winners and the losers are decided by the number of subpoenas that can be issued or hearings that can be held, the 2018 midterm elections were pretty good for the Democrats. It’s a practical and pragmatic victory, where Democrats can more actively play the role of the opposition party. But for young Americans looking toward the bleak future of climate inaction, the electoral chess match is maddening, because it doesn’t look like it’ll put us on track to save civilization from anthropogenic destruction.
In other words, in the 2018 midterms, the young people are the losers.
It doesn’t help that Americans voted in large numbers for people who will die before the worst climate realities will come to pass. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have failed time and time again to show empathy for the severity of the situation. Not that there weren’t things to cheer for as returns came in—ballot initiatives and candidates across the nation doing good things for real people—but we have to do better, and think bigger, to create a world that will be good for the generations to come. —Jake Gold, University of Virginia
Sometimes I feel helpless about politics. It feels like every other week something bad happens: children getting separated at the border, the current administration ignoring scientific evidence of climate change, white supremacists feeling more emboldened than ever. I’ve attended rallies, called my congressmen, and registered people to vote, but sometimes I want to give up. Keeping up with politics feels like a full-time job—it’s far easier to ignore the chaos and to focus on things like job searching instead. But this election season—which, for me, started in mid-July as I watched a friend text hundreds of people for Beto’s campaign from his laptop in Nashville—has enlivened me. This election season was driven by a belief that people could change the status quo, even if it meant slow progress.
My friend Stephanie loves her home state of Nebraska. She likes to bring up the fact that Omaha, where she is from, has their own electoral vote. Last week, she took an Uber to the post office and paid $25 to express mail her ballot. Even though Nebraska turned red for every candidate, even though Beto didn’t win, and even though Republicans gained seats in the Senate, I know that organizers and activists have changed the political dynamics of the United States in ways that don’t necessarily show up in election results and in ways that we can’t directly see now. I’m excited about the thousands of people who showed up to vote on issues larger than themselves. I’m excited about the record number of women who have been elected and how Stacey Abrams is so close to winning Georgia. So much progress has been made, and I’m excited. —Lily Lou, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
On election night, I gathered with members of my university community to await the midterm results. As I looked around the room, I was struck by its diversity. Students conversed in Spanish and French, English and Korean. There were women in hijabs and men in kippahs. Everyone sat together, eyes fixated on televisions, laptops, and phones.
With each drop of blue that splashed across a screen, I breathed a sigh of relief—not just for me, but for people of color, for immigrants, for women, for the LGBTQ+ community, for working families, for education, for the environment, for survivors. The outcome may not have been a blue tsunami, but it was enough to preserve and reinforce hope.
Yes, young people must continue to battle the disturbing prejudices and inequalities of contemporary America. However, we also showed up in record numbers to elect the first Native American women to Congress, the first openly gay man to the governorship, the youngest woman to Congress. We uplifted leaders who not only reflect the powerful diversity of America, but have pledged to strengthen the causes upon which it depends: education, health care, and criminal-justice reform. I am proud to be a member of a generation that, when confronted with two visions of America—one cold, closed and homogeneous, and the other accepting, transformative, and varied—unequivocally chose the latter. —Lauren Padilla, Johns Hopkins University
Students went out in droves to vote, and I can’t help feeling that we’re marching to the proverbial slaughterhouse.
The South went to war over the prospect of slavery losing its balance of power in federal politics. The stakes do not appear as consequential as abolishing chattel slavery, but we face an urgency of declining wages and nationalist politics, not to mention climate change. If you consider the wide margin in the popular vote against the limited electoral results, it’s clear that the priorities of the Democratic Party leadership, and our own, must be militant.
The threat of investigating Trump is encouraging. We can cut short another period of cynical supply-side economics and the erosion of standards of living. On the other hand, Democrats seem to stand nowhere but simply against Trump. If Tuesday’s lackluster showing tells us anything, it’s that the politics of negation are empty. What appeals to voters is an economic platform that makes real the struggle of working people.
Pelosi-Schumer politics have run their course. The diminutive blue wave does not bode well for 2020. We as students are wasting energy if we mobilize votes for the barren political vision that is simply a reaction to Trump. It’s on Democratic leadership to produce persuasive arguments. It’s on us not to serve as their get-out-the-vote shock troops, but to hit the streets and revive meaningful activism through our campuses, through the unions, and through our communities. —Carl Fulghieri, University of Pennsylvania
I watched the 2018 midterm election from across the Atlantic Ocean, 4,000 miles away.
As a student living abroad in Europe for the past three months, you might think that United States politics would be slightly less prevalent in my daily life. Are other parts of the world really that concerned with the politics of the US?
Yes, they are.
The US contains only 6 percent of the earth’s landmass and less than 5 percent of the global population, yet countries around the world turn their attention to our elections, government and politics.
The United States is a topic of global focus, and not for reasons that we should be proud of.
In Ireland, I was asked by an Albanian taxi driver why people voted for “that crazy Trump.”
In the Netherlands, a man asked me if everyone in the United States is racist.
In the United Kingdom, a man yelled at me on the bus for being American—because I lived in the nation that elected Trump to be its leader. I didn’t argue with him.
A German newspaper, on reporting the US election results, titled an article on the subject, “Hatred and malice remain electable.”
I don’t often think of our country in a global context during elections, but this year, I did.
I imagined getting into a London cab and having the driver remark that the US government seems to promote equality and basic human rights for its people. I imagined not having to explain that yes, I’m American, and no, I’m not racist. I imagined, when asked my country of origin, responding “United States” without feeling ashamed.
This year’s midterm election results do not support these fantasies.
Yes, there were encouraging victories in this election. But “election” is a noun, and our country is in need of verbs. We need to reform laws. We need to protect rights. We need to fight for equality. We need to incite change.
Pete Buttigieg—Mayor of South Bend, Indiana—put it best: “We just made our government more Democratic. The next test will be whether we can make it more democratic.” —Kara Miecznikowski, University of Notre Dame
The results of this years midterm election were expected. I was not shocked by the Democrats’ taking the House and the Republicans maintaining the Senate. I was, however, elated to hear about the immense number of women, of all different races and religions, that were elected. I am grateful that people went to the polls—especially young people—and gave the Democrats a chance to get ahold of the House. Being a young person during this time, especially in the fields of politics and journalism, is extremely fascinating because you get to see people your own age fighting for ideas they believe in. I think the results of this election will help young people feel that their voices are being heard. Maybe now that people have seen how powerful young people can be when they get involved and vote, they will start listening to the issues we feel so strongly about and our ideas for solutions. —Mallory Wilson, Hofstra University
In the weeks before the elections, it felt as if there was an increased sense of urgency surrounding the youth vote, primarily ushered in by organizers who were young people themselves. My social-media feeds and timelines were flooded with friends telling each other to vote. And these campaigns seem to have worked: According to The Atlantic, there was a 188-percent surge in youth turnout. After the 2016 presidential election, the stakes have clearly gotten higher for young people.
Like many of my peers, my energy was focused on Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Watching these losses was particularly disheartening. But seeing just how close these races were, and just how much support Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum were able to garner nationwide reignited my hope for the possibility of a more progressive future.
I wonder what the Democratic House majority will mean for students across the country. Will these new candidates ensure that, when it comes to gun violence, we can feel safe in our classrooms? Or in any public place, for that matter? And what does increased youth turnout mean in the long term, after the ballots have been counted? If more young people are engaging in this democratic process, then surely more young people are being exposed to the flaws that might accompany it. Will this mean a surge in youth activism against voter suppression? I don’t think the results of this election will lead to a decrease in the dedicated and persistent youth organizing that we’ve been seeing in these last two years. —Mary Akdemir, New York University
The Georgia governor’s race ostensibly pitted Democrat Stacey Abrams against Republican Brian Kemp. But it really pitted Abrams against both Kemp and a targeted voter-suppression effort so bold and so sweeping that it might have tripped alarms at the United Nations. Abrams wasn’t supposed to win.
And so in the early hours of Wednesday morning at a ballroom in Atlanta, Abrams, predictably trailing Kemp by a razor-thin margin of just fewer than 100,000 votes, took the stage to address her supporters.
The speech she delivered was remarkable. She didn’t despair. And she didn’t back down.
“Hard work is in our bones,” she said, “and tonight we have closed the gap between yesterday and tomorrow.”
The crowd around her roared.
“We still have a few more miles to go,” she continued. “But hear me clearly: That too is an opportunity to show the world who we are. Because in Georgia, civil rights has always been an act of will and a battle for our souls.”
Leave it to a progressive, black woman in the Deep South, having just been cheated out of a chance to win a free and fair election for governor, to stand up straight, composed and confident, and unflinchingly deliver the line of the night.
She knows. There was much to be heartened and relieved by on Tuesday. Turnout was strong. Democrats did well. But whether it’s officials in Georgia trying to steal elections or white, rural voters flooding to the polls to hold off progressive insurgencies in places like Florida and Texas and stomp out Democratic senators in places like Missouri and Indiana, the forces that made Donald Trump possible and then made him president are not by any stretch fading away.
What does this mean for young people, especially as we turn towards 2020? That the hard work had better be in our bones. We’re fighting for our lives in this country, and nothing is going to come easily. —Abe Asher, Macalester College
One hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote. On Tuesday, over 100 women were elected to Congress.
You can’t be what you can’t see. It may be a cliché, but in a time in our country when marginalized groups seem to be continually at risk, the midterm election results mean something. For women, young people, LGBTQIA+ people, people of color, Native Americans, Muslims, and so many groups typically underrepresented in government, the election sent a message to our generation and the generations to come: Regardless of your background, you can be elected to lead your community and country. While we are still far from our legislative bodies’ reflecting the makeup of our population, Tuesday showed us the promise of what our politics can be when it looks a bit more like us.
In my hometown of Ulster County in New York’s 19th Congressional District, we elected Antonio Delgado, the first-ever person of color to represent us, and Juan Figueroa, the first-ever Hispanic person elected to the office of sheriff in the history of New York State. Here, we saw significant increases of new registered youth voters leading up to the election, which likely helped solidify their historic victories.
But the work doesn’t stop now.
Young people dramatically increased their voter turnout, marking the highest level of participation among youth in the past 25 years at 31 percent turnout. Yet, while that is an increase compared to the last midterm election, when youth-voter turnout dropped to the lowest ever at 19.9 percent, this still means that 69 percent of young voices were not heard at the voting booth, when so many of the decisions on the ballot and our elected officials actions affect us the most.
Young people are currently the largest, most diverse voting bloc in the country. Over the course of the next couple of years, we will continue to shape politics and elect candidates that reflect our values that make us who we are. The playing field may not be leveled yet, but we have added new players to the game.
This is just the beginning. —Jazmin Kay, George Washington University
The midterm elections of this past Tuesday represent a major victory for women of color. Deb Haaland in New Mexico and Sharice Davids in Kansas became the first Native American women elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota will be the first Muslim women in Congress. Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar will be the first Hispanic women in Texas elected to Congress. Liberal opinion about the role white women played in the midterms, however, is divided.
The past two days has seen both a slew of self-congratulatory articles and social-media posts on the part of white feminists, and self-flagellating commentary demanding that white women “do better.” The results of the midterm elections demonstrate that the allegiances of white women have shifted over the past two years, likely as a result of the #MeToo movement and the Kavanaugh hearings: This past Tuesday, 59 percent of white women voters voted Democratic, while 53 percent of white women voted for Trump in 2016. The shift is most significant in white suburban women, although in the highly publicized races in Georgia, Texas, and Florida, a significant majority voted for Brian Kemp, Ted Cruz, and Ron DeSantis, respectively. Despite the shifting allegiances of white women voters, the midterms do not necessarily indicate a victory for intersectional feminism. We have yet to see whether the uptick in liberal-leaning white women is a result of the increasing threat to white women’s autonomy posed by the Trump administration, or a sincere commitment to intersectional coalition-building. —Emma Fiona Jones, Vassar College
A blue tide swept through America on Tuesday, and America’s youth were leading the charge. The wave of young voters does not come as a shock to me, nor does the resulting Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives. To students like myself, politics may have at one time been regarded as a separate sphere reserved for adults and the nation’s elite. But the minute an American citizen so easily took the lives of numerous elementary-school students and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, that thought process was forced to an end. Mass shooting after mass shooting unfolded into debates on gun control and school safety—all of which made apparent the ubiquity of politics and the immense amount of power that political elites harbor in shaping the lives of American youth.
With the chilling realization that our lives as students were at stake, the narrative surrounding politics began to change. We young voters grasped the gravity of these elections, and with it, we mobilized efforts to change the system. In March, the survivors of the Parkland shooting even spearheaded a national march that saw millions of Americans rally for gun control. I do believe that school tragedies catalyzed a movement of political activeness among young voters, but gun violence was just the beginning. We saw not only the end result of semiautomatic weapons, but also the systemic factors that led to such barbarity. We saw how the rhetoric of the president could inspire a culture of hatred, xenophobia, racism, and white suprematism—all of which, in their extreme form, result in murder. We young voters couldn’t stand by idly. To me, these elections revealed our collective understanding that we do have power, and we have an obligation to exercise that power for those that no longer can. Our empowerment produced clear and evident change. — Alyssa Hurlbut, Marist College
To me, as a teenager, elections have always seemed more like a spectator sport than democracy at work. On the day of the midterm elections, my Instagram feed was filled with celebrities telling people to “Get to the polls!” and a sea of “I Voted” stickers. The whole nation felt the power of the youth vote as many young adults took to the Internet to share their excitement. First-time voter and friend Giulia Cox, who is six months older than me, said voting “made [her] feel like an adult,” as opposed to her recent 18th birthday, which did not.
Watching the live news feed from my couch in Brooklyn, I felt equally proud and helpless. When I saw Max Rose win in Staten Island over the Republican incumbent, I felt exhilarated. But as the night wore on and the Senate remained in Republican hands, I wondered if my bouts of protesting and volunteering over the past two years meant as much as a single vote on the first Tuesday of November. But I am forced to remind myself that progress doesn’t happen in one day, and as Stacey Abrams said, “There’s voices that are waiting to be heard.” It’s my last time on the sidelines. The wait is nearly over. —Sophia Steinberg, Beacon High School, New York City