The ongoing fight for abortion presents an opportunity to reverse the tide of young people abandoning the electoral process.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas have pundits talking about the possibility of young people streaming to the voting booth in record numbers this fall.
Polling backs this assumption—a new poll conducted in late June from All In Together shows a 25 percent increase in voting interest among young women ages 18-29 following the Roe decision, when compared to a previous poll on the same issue in Sept. 2021.
It’s easy to see why. Abortion and school shootings are two issues that impact young voters more than anyone else, and they are mobilizing accordingly. Thousands of students staged walkouts at high schools and colleges across the country to demand stronger gun laws following the Uvalde tragedy, and young people flowed into the streets to protest the SCOTUS ruling.
In fact, young people like myself have been propelled into activism and political engagement by a number of issues recently. We’ve been mobilized by the climate crisis, the new labor movement and racial injustice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Since 2020, we’ve protested, organized, donated, voted and put our energy towards the candidates who promised to take action on the issues we care about most.
But while activism and voting were closely tied in 2020, that relationship didn’t seem to be holding when it came to the 2022 midterms. In March, All In Together found that only 27.3 percent of women between the ages of 18-29 were “almost certain to vote” this year.
This isn’t surprising—there is an undeniable pessimism among young people when it comes to American democracy and electoral politics. In the Spring Harvard Youth Poll released earlier this year, 43 percent of those ages 18-29 said they don’t believe their vote will make a real difference.
Truth be told, young people simply aren’t relying on the traditional electoral routes of activism, if they get involved at all. Roughly one-third of young people believe that “political involvement rarely has tangible results.” This is reflected in the low numbers of young people volunteering on campaigns (12 percent), participating in a political organization (9 percent) or donating to a campaign (18 percent) in the last year. It’s a trend raising red flags across the political spectrum, as it applies to young Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.
However, our newest polling suggests the trend could be reversing, with renewed interest among young people in electoral engagement. The Roe decision and the corollary patchwork of state and local laws underscores the importance of voting in elections at all levels, something that may have been an afterthought for those of us coming of voting age during the Trump era.
To be sure, the interest in voting indicated in polls often overestimates actual voter turnout. But, when looking at 18-24 year olds from 2020, youth turnout was over 50 percent for states with key races for abortion access like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin as well as Kansas, where abortion access is on the ballot next month.
The ongoing fight for abortion access presents an opportunity to reverse the tide of young people abandoning the electoral process. While clearly important and motivating, action on issues like climate change and systemic discrimination may not show immediate and tangible results in young people’s day to day lives. Compare this to the states with abortion bans taking place or on the ballot, and it’s clear how activism can make a difference. While it’s too soon to tell if young voters will turn out to vote in November, this could just be the spark to reverse the trend.