Gen Z Vote was Critical in Blocking GOP’s Predicted ‘Red Wave’

Interview with Marianna Pecora, deputy communications director with the group Voters of Tomorrow, conducted by Scott Harris

Analysis of exit polls in the 2022 midterm election found that the large turnout of young voters across the U.S. was a key factor in preventing the widely predicted “red wave” of Republican victories in both state and federal contests. Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life estimated that 27 percent of 18- to 29-year-old voters cast ballots in the Nov. 8 elections and that 63 percent of them voted for Democrats in House of Representatives races.

The participation of young people at the polls this year was the second-highest rate in midterm elections over the last five decades, second only to 2018, which saw the highest youth voter turnout since the early 1970s. Issues such as protecting women’s reproductive rights, climate change, legalization of marijuana and student loan debt forgiveness helped mobilize many young people. Further analysis of election returns found that the youth vote made a critical difference in senate and governors’ races in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona. 

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marianna Pecora, deputy communications director with the group Voters of Tomorrow, who talks about the work her group did to achieve a large turnout of young voters in the election and what Democrats must do to maintain youth voter engagement.

MARIANNA PECORA: So we are a Gen Z-led and run organization. Our staffers range from ages 13 to 25. We’re all students or we work full time and we run this organization as a passion project because we care so much about democracy and turning out young voters. So over the course of the past couple of months, we’ve been running this organizing program specifically in swing states across the country where there was a pro-democracy candidate and an anti-democracy candidate up for election and where young voters could be the deciding factor in that election.

We contacted voters through over 5.5 million text messages and we were able to see the rewards of that organizing program and increased voter effort or turnout this year. So we’re really proud of the work that we did and we’re really excited that young voters really do care and are turning out to vote this year.

Our program, I think, is really special because we do a combination of on-the-ground organizing through our chapters system and then text and phone banking programs that I mentioned before. But I think that the really unique thing about Voters of Tomorrow — and it’s a unique thing about Gen Z as a whole — is that there’s a couple of unique factors you have to consider when you’re reaching Gen Z. And one of those really big factors is that the traditional voter contact methods that other organizations or that campaigns are typically doing because it’s the way it’s been done in politics for so many years, aren’t necessarily going to be the best ways to reach young voters.

If you’re canvassing a young voter and you’re going to their home address, chances are they’re away at college and they’re not going to open the door, their parent is. Or if you’re calling a young voter, chances are they’re not going to pick up the phone because we just don’t answer calls from unknown numbers very often. So we’re really focused on relational organizing, talking to the people that you know and that you trust, people that are on your campus, people that you are friends with.

Getting that connection and making sure that people understand on a personal level why voting is so important, why showing up is so important. And then that’s why we focus on text banking in our organizing program, because that’s where young voters are. We reach each other through text. We can more accurately, more effectively reach young voters and talk to each other.

If we’re talking to each other on the platforms that we normally live on and that we spend our time on, that’s just a big part of the thing I think that campaigns and other organizations are going to have to shift to as Gen Z makes up a bigger part of the electorate — is meeting of voters where they’re at and learning to adapt to the platforms where they find themselves.

SCOTT HARRIS: So over the last three election cycles, the youth vote has been critical for the Democrats. From your perspective, what should the Democratic party, as well as specifically progressive candidates, what should they be doing that won’t take the youth vote for granted? What kind of meaningful outreach should the party be doing to solidify and expand the youth vote going forward?

MARIANNA PECORA: I think that it starts with doing any outreach at all, really. It’s really disappointing for young people when they’re not getting reached out to by campaigns or by people whose votes they’re trying to get. There’s this vicious cycle that I think that happens between campaigns and young people, where campaigns don’t reach out to young voters because there’s sort of a stereotype that young people don’t vote.

And thus, young people don’t care enough about the campaign or about the ballot or like whatever’s happening, and then they don’t go and vote. So I think it starts with reaching out to young voters at all. I think the second thing is partnering with organizations like Voters of Tomorrow. If you’re going to be a candidate that’s saying, “I want to reach out to young people. I want to earn your vote. I want to fight for your future, the best person that’s going to be a surrogate for Gen Z is another member of Gen Z, and that’s something that we think is really special about our organization. We’re not older people talking down to younger people; we’re younger people are having conversations with each other.

So I think that’s a really big part of it, it’s having people that are reaching out to young organizers like us and then just having younger people run in general, too. We just saw Maxwell Frost get elected to become the first Gen Z member of Congress. We are incredibly excited. Voters of Tomorrow is one of the first national organizations to endorse him.

So we’ve been following along his journey for about a year now and that’s really exciting for us. And so we want to see more young people represented in Congress. We want to see people that are going to be fighting for our interests in the room where decisions get made. And we think that that representation is really important.

For more information, visit Voters of Tomorrow

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Marianna Pecora (18:09) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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