Young Voters and the Midterm Elections: A Revolutionary Shift or a Product of Historical Trend?

Young Voters and the Midterm Elections: A Revolutionary Shift or a Product of Historical Trend?


As the midterm elections approach, academics speculate regarding the outcome of the vote and the voters who will make the most difference. Young voters, many predict, will be the key factor in deciding the election. However, it appears questionable how much of a difference this particular age cohort is really going to make. According to evidence provided by a FiveThirtyEight article, “the president’s party almost always does worse in midterm elections.” As a result, despite anticipation of the election results and the crucial voting groups that will cause a certain outcome, midterm election history points to a specific pattern that transcends the importance of groups identified as the deciding factors. While young voters will inevitably prove important to the coming election, the results of the midterm elections will be more determined by historical trend than a revolutionary shift in voters’ preferences.

A surge of attention has been devoted recently to the role that young voters can play in next week’s midterm elections. According to a study published by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, summarized in a U.S. News and World Report article, “America’s young adults are swinging away from Democrats.” In fact, for those young voters who are planning to cast their ballots in the election, “51 percent said they would like to see a Republican-controlled Congress vs. 47 percent who said they would like to see Democrats in charge,” as noted in a Washington Post article. However, among all 18 to 29 year olds, 50 percent prefer a Democratic Congress and 43 percent prefer one that is Republican, according to data presented in a New York Times article.

When taken together with the disregard that many young people have towards politics, shown in a Politico article, the fact that more young people prefer a Democratic Congress than a Republican Congress becomes less important. The young people who will actually vote, who, as referenced above, support a Republican Congress, are the more important group to consider. Still, the revolutionary nature of young people’s shift in affecting the midterm election results to produce a Republican win is overemphasized.

How significant is this “push away from the left,” a phrase coined by the U.S. News and World Report article, from young voters, who in the very recent past have tended to be a solid source of support for the Democrats? It’s an interesting shift, however, their newly aligned preferences will not be the factor that tips the midterm elections in the Republicans’ favor. Republicans are likely to take control of Congress, as predicted by an article in The Economist, yet they will not win solely on the basis of new voter alignments. In reality, while these figures for young voters certainly indicate a realignment of the 18 to 29 age cohort’s preferences, perhaps the shift is simply a product of historical trend.

A century and a half of political patterns demonstrates that the party of the president tends not to do well in midterm elections. According to a Pew Research Center article, “since 1842 the President’s party has lost seats in 40 of 43 midterms.” Viewed in this light, the effect of young voters marginally preferring Republicans seems to be less the factor that will cause a potential Republican takeover of Congress than the simple ebb and flow of history.


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About author

Emily Stewart

Emily is a senior from Charlotte, NC double majoring in Political Science and Spanish.This summer, she worked at the Department of Justice in the Office of International Affairs. Additionally, she was the Undergraduate Research Fellow at the Latin American Public Opinion Project here at Vanderbilt. She is interested in international politics and American foreign policy. This year, she is serving as the Managing Editor for VPR.

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