Will a Gen Z Wave Transform the 2022 Midterms?

Daniel A. Cox November 3, 2022

An image of a woman standing over a table to register people to vote.

Youth Political Engagement is Hard to Predict

Historically, young people tend to sit out the midterm elections. Yet the 2018 midterm elections witnessed a significant spike in youth turnout, a trend that continued in 2020. It was also not limited to voting. Across the board, youth political participation—activities that include attending a march or donating money to a campaign—was also much higher in 2020. While political engagement among young voters is still far lower than among older voters, it was large enough to make a difference. Will this burst of youth activism be sustained in 2022? 

John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, certainly thinks so.  He is predicting a “Gen Z wave” in this year’s election. Forty percent of young voters (age 18 to 29) in the most recent Harvard Youth Poll conducted by Della Volpe reported that they will “definitely” vote this year, nearly identical to 2018

Will Young People Vote? 

I’m not quite so bullish on youth turnout this year. First, there are structural impediments to voting, including a raft of new voting restrictions passed last year. Second, the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade may not help motivate young voters as much as some initially thought. Third, the national political landscape looks different than it did in 2018 and 2020. Fourth, young voters’ party ties are weakening.

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