Ahead of Midterms, Women’s Rights Are Among Issues Most Important to Young Voters

A woman walks into a polling place to cast her ballot in the midterm primary elections on May 17, 2022 in Cary, North Carolina. (Melissa Sue Gerrits / Getty Images)

In 2020, the number of young people who cast a vote in the presidential election increased by 11 percent compared to 2016, marking one of the highest rates of youth voter turnout. Now, as the U.S. is reckoning with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, a series of recent polls show gender equality and women’s rights are among the most important issues capturing the interest of young people—and may serve as a catalyst for the anticipated record-breaking election coming November.

TOP TAKEAWAYS

  • Women’s rights are the second most important social issue to young people, according to a Cause and Social Influence study.
  • Seventy-five percent of young Americans ages 18 to 29 say all or nearly all abortions should be legal, according to a Pew Research Center report.
  • Young voters played a huge role in shifting swing states in the 2020 presidential election, helping to lead Biden to victory with a 25-point lead among young voters, according to the Circle Tufts study.
  • The Harvard Institute of Politics Youth Poll showed spikes in youth political participation in response to key events, indicating a higher turnout in 2022. 
  • A YouGov poll taken in the week following the overturn of Roe shows that young adults under the age of 30 overwhelmingly disagree with the Court’s ruling, and see it as motivation to vote in this fall’s midterm elections.

Women’s Rights: A Top Issue Among Young People

Surpassed only by mental health, women’s rights are the second most important social issue to people between 18 and 30, according to a Cause and Social Influence study that surveyed 1,000 participants. The COVID-19 pandemic, environmental issues, better wages and animal rights are tied for third, each with 12 percent. 

Young people are also paying attention and taking action to address social issues they care about; 34 percent have taken the time to learn about a cause or social issue and 28 percent have signed a petition in the last 30 days. Such commitment and engagement was observed in the huge turnout for the March for Our Lives demonstrations calling for gun legislation reform in nationwide marches from coast to coast earlier this month.

Reproductive Rights Can No Longer Be Ignored

A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that support for abortion rights is considerably higher among young Americans. Nearly 75 percent of the 18 to 29 year olds surveyed believe abortion should generally be legal. And per a YouGov poll taken in the wake of the Court’s ruling to overturn Roe, 61 percent of adults under 30 believed that the decision it will “make life worse.”

Youth are not alone in their opinions regarding abortion access. The topic also has become a place of discussion in the corporate world.

An overwhelming majority of the Cause and Social Influence study respondents—67 percent—said they believe companies should take a stance on causes and social issues. 77 percent of these participants said they think companies have a great deal or at least some influence on people’s attitudes towards societal concerns. Additionally, many companies have started paying attention to youth’s attitudes by releasing public statements and changing company healthcare benefits in favor of abortion access.

In the 2022 midterm races, youth will have an immense impact and will likely be looking to cast votes for candidates that share their pro-choice stances.

In a Close Election Decided on the Margins, the Youth Vote Is Significant

The Harvard youth poll revealed why there was a dramatic increase in young voter turnout in 2018 and in 2020. Respondents participated in voting as “political therapy,” which was rooted in trying to find a way to resolve the frustration and anxiety sparked by major events and changes, like Trump’s election, mass shootings and now the loss of Roe

Today’s youth, have the power to sway the election outcomes into their favor. The Circle Tufts poll indicates young voters preferred Biden by a 25 point-margin in the 2020 presidential elections. Young voters in swing states such as Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania played a significant role in Biden’s win. In Georgia, approximately 188,000 more youth votes were cast for Biden than for Trump, while the vote margin was only 7,000 votes in the race at large in the state. This impact can be attributed to the significant voter turnout of Black and Latinx youth which favored Biden.

What’s more, the Dobbs decision is likely to drive even more young voters to the polls. Per polling from YouGov in the wake of the Court’s ruling, nearly half (41 percent) of voters under 30 said they were more likely to vote in the midterms this year because of the overturning of Roe.

Lawmakers and Candidates Ignore Youth Concerns at Their Own Peril

As past elections have demonstrated, the voices and opinions of young people are increasingly important in determining the outcome of an election. With the reversal of Roe v. Wade and access to abortion and reproductive health services cut off or at risk, young voters’ passion for women’s rights will be reflected at the midterm’s ballot boxes. As Harvard’s Institute of Politics polling director John Della Volpe put it: “While this is an off-year election, there’s no evidence … that young Americans are off the grid.” 

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About , and

Hannah Beck is a former editorial intern for Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College. She is majoring in the study of women and gender and Spanish. Her academic interests include transnational feminism, queer history and theory as well as reproductive justice.
Dominik Drabent is an editorial intern for Ms. and a graduate student in the gender & women's studies program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He earned his bachelor's degree in gender & women's studies and aviation management from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His research interests are queer studies, feminist pedagogy, transnational feminism, the Middle East, Islamic feminism and Muslim sexualities.
Christine Cabusay is an editorial intern for Ms. and a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University. She is double majoring in Child Development and in Human & Organizational Development on the Education Policy track.