Voting. It’s the most serious duty of American citizenship. That’s why so many recently participated in the 2022 midterm elections.
Turnout for midterm elections is usually unimpressive. Why? Perhaps feelings aren’t passionately aroused because it’s not a presidential contest. Apathy curtails interest. Americans consequently don’t go to the polls.
Not so this year.
Statisticians are still compiling data, but the 2022 numbers have already been called historic. And data analysts have concluded the turnout for voters between the ages of 18-29 was the second highest in the last 30 years.
And that’s not by chance. Grassroots organizations like Michigan People’s Campaign spent time on college campuses, mobilizing young people about the issues they care about. Community Change Action met young voters where they’re at — for example on TikTok — to talk about the issues others have shied away from for fear they were too wonky.
Young people are engaged across the country, including in New Mexico where I live. They are actively listening to the news and going to the polls. Knowing this gives me hope for the future. The next generation is going to make a difference.
The other major take-away from the midterm elections is that the predicted “red wave” didn’t happen. Many pundits forecast a massive sweep of victories by conservative candidates. They predicted that the Democrats and their progressive agendas were going to take bloodbath. Their reasoning? Historically the “opposition party” (the party that isn’t in the White House) does well in midterm elections, gaining steam by highlighting the incumbent party’s shortcomings.
Instead the Democrats held on to the senate majority, even gaining a seat after Warnock’s re-election in the Georgia run-off.
Youth voters — also known as Generation Z — were massively mobilized by their support of the right to choose. The Supreme Court decision that struck down reproductive rights galvanized an electorate for whom a pro-choice stance is a prerequisite. Their high turnout cut across highly politically and geographically diverse states, where razor thin margins determined control of local and federal legislature. They crowded the voting booths in places as diverse as Kentucky, Vermont, Michigan, Montana and California.
Gen Z voters are issue oriented. Studies show they tend to look at candidates who support their issues, rather than vote for a party. Their priority issues included: the economy, healthcare, mental health issues, racial equity, and finding ways to stop gun violence.
Contests across the nation matched candidates who supported progressive agendas against conservatives who pushed extremist positions. In my state the most hotly contested race was between incumbent Governor Michele Lujan Grisham, and her conservative opponent, Mark Ronchetti.
Ronchetti leaned heavily toward an anti-choice agenda. He supported a state constitutional amendment which would significantly limit, or deny women the right to choose. On the other hand, Governor Grisham spoke with great eloquence and authority of preserving women’s rights. My beliefs also strongly aligned with hers.
Ronchetti also lacked an anti-poverty agenda. Whenever he was asked about poverty, he tended to shift the focus to stopping crime and increasing pay for police. Respecting police officers and their work is important. His answers, however, displayed his inability to appreciate how social destabilization that results from extreme poverty drives crime.
Research led by Community Change ahead of the midterm elections showed that what voters most wanted was economic stability and bold ideas that put people first – ideas from leaders who communicated their vision in a way that made people feel physically, financially, and emotionally secure. More and more voters want leaders who lead with community-based solutions to keep Black and Brown bodies safe, guarantee affordable childcare, and leave voters with extra cash at the end of the day for after-school activities for their kids.
Governor Grisham convinced me. She had a track record supporting anti-poverty measures. During her first term she increased and expanded the Working Families Tax Credit, and enacted a state child tax credit. She also supported the constitutional amendment ballot initiative to fund child care that New Mexico voters enacted with 70% support. Supporting these measures gave me confidence she understood poverty and its impact.
I believe Gen Z is distant from a candidate like Ronchetti, who represents the MAGA faction and doesn’t relate to their lived experiences.
Taken as a whole, the 2022 midterms were a reaffirmation for the policies the Biden administration enacted, and a progressive agenda even more expansive than that. Gen Z is ready for leaders who will fight for universal healthcare, pass legislation to support mental health measures, address homelessness, and put an end to gun violence.
I was happy that my progressive New Mexico Governor won reelection — a victory for women, the poor, the young and all citizens in my state.
Nationally, everyone predicted a “red wave,” but the results signaled a Youth Wave. Gen Z will carry on from 2022 and will vote every election for years into the future until their dreams become the new normal.