Washington, D.C. – As the Congressional debate over clean energy, infrastructure, and climate investments heats up, a new analysis from TargetSmart underscores the need for Democrats to deliver on climate action if they hope to keep their House and Senate majorities in 2022.
The analysis found that even a small drop in the share of the vote cast by young voters under thirty would be dire for Democrats’ chances of keeping their House and Senate majorities. “If youth voter turnout doesn’t approach 2018 levels, Democratic control of Congress will be in peril,” writes TargetSmart’s CEO Tom Bonier:
The 2020 US election was anticipated as the most consequential in US history. The Capitol insurrection attempt on January 6th and subsequent GOP efforts to minimize the seriousness of the event while continuing to undermine the legitimacy of the election suggests that the ‘22 midterms could surpass the importance of the 2020 elections. With these stakes in mind, we begin to focus on the electoral landscape for 2022, identifying decisive voting blocs. We begin with a group poised to have an outsized impact on the outcome of these critical elections: young Americans.
When considering the potential impact of young voters in the 2022 midterms, it’s important to understand the recent history of the youth vote in midterms. In ‘14, Democratic enthusiasm generally lagged, with youth turnout lagging more than any other group. Voters under the age of 30 accounted for just 7.2% of all ballots cast. The end result? Republicans won the national popular vote for the US House by almost 6 points, adding 13 seats to their already substantial majority. The GOP also gained 9 seats in the US Senate.
Jumping ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, no age group saw a larger surge in turnout than voters under the age of 30. The youth vote drove the Blue Wave, as this group gave Democrats a margin of almost 2 to 1. In the end, voters under the age of 30 accounted for 11.4% of all votes cast, a 4.2-point increase over their 2014 vote share. Of course, 2018 saw Democrats recapture the House, winning the national popular vote by almost 9 points – a swing of almost 15 points from the previous midterm election.
Youth turnout surged again in 2020, as voters under the age of 30 made up 13.8% of all ballots cast, again providing a decisive edge for the Biden-Harris ticket, and helping to deliver Democratic control of the Senate.
Democrats face numerous structural challenges heading into next fall’s midterm elections. Between the gerrymandered US House districts, and the Constitutional gerrymander inherent in the structure of the US Senate, Democrats must win the national popular vote by a substantial margin just to hold onto their majorities in both chambers. What’s more, with redistricting looming and the GOP poised to control the process in key states, it’s conceivable that the congressional gerrymander will only worsen before next fall, necessitating an even larger popular vote margin to maintain control of Congress.
At a state level, several key states stand out as particularly exposed to swings in the youth vote. Arizona, California, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas all have youth vote shares above the national average. These states will be key battlegrounds for control of congress in 2022.
Of course, the Democratic coalition is much broader than the youth vote alone. Voters of color stand as a crucial voting bloc, and their turnout will be critically important in the 2022 midterms. What is important to understand here is the intersection between age and race/ethnicity. Voters of color are, on average, younger than white voters. 20% of all votes cast in the 2020 presidential election were cast by voters of color. Yet voters of color accounted for 30% of the youth vote in that same election. We expect to see this vote share rise in future elections. Engaging voters of color increasingly means engaging the youth vote.
This adds up to a simple truth – if youth voter turnout doesn’t approach 2018 levels, Democratic control of Congress will be in peril.
New Surveys Show Action on Climate Needed to Motivate Young and Biden Turnout Voters
In addition to the TargetSmart analysis, two new surveys also released today by Hart Research Associates found that climate action, including significant clean energy and infrastructure investments, is essential to motivate key voting blocs, including young voters and Biden turnout voters, who supported President Biden in 2020, to show up to vote in 2022.
One survey targeted respondents who voted for Biden in 2020 but did not vote in 2016 and/or 2018. The second poll surveyed young voters (age 18-34).
“The bottom line: both of these key audiences want and expect action on climate, and absence of such action would substantially endanger Democratic candidates gaining their votes next year,” write Geoff Garin, Jay Campbell, and Corrie Hunt of Hart Research Associates.
Key findings of the surveys include:
1. Biden turnout voters and young voters want to see Democrats pass impactful legislation on climate.
- Turnout voters want Democrats in Congress to be bold. Overwhelmingly, they say they are more concerned that Congress will not go far enough in passing policies to address climate change (79%) than that Congress will go too far (15%).
- Moreover, for these Democratic base audiences, action is far more important than bipartisanship. By decisive margins, turnout voters (72%) and young voters (70%) report that when it comes to addressing climate change and promoting clean energy, they care more about Democrats passing legislation that will solve problems and help people even if few—if any—Republicans in Congress support it. By comparison, only 22% of Biden turnout voters and 30% of young voters (including just 16% of young Democrats) prefer that Democrats pass legislation that would be more bipartisan in nature.
2. Making real, meaningful progress on climate and clean energy is critical for mobilizing young voters and Biden turnout voters in the 2022 midterms.
- At the moment, significant shares of turnout targets and young voters are not committed to voting next year: 31% of Biden turnout voters and nearly half (44%) of young voters are not definite about voting in 2022.
- But 67% of Biden turnout voters and 79% of young Democrats say they would be MUCH more motivated to vote for Democrats in 2022 if Democrats take strong action on combating climate change to address the causes of global warming.
- And 73% of Biden turnout voters and 76% of young Democrats would be MUCH more motivated to vote for Democrats if Democrats take strong action on creating millions of good-paying jobs in clean energy.
- Action on climate and clean energy will not only motivate these key audiences to vote, it can help to generate excitement about Democratic candidates. Virtually all young adults who voted for Biden in 2020 (97%) express excitement for supporting a candidate who voted in favor of President Biden’s plan to create millions of good-paying jobs while making historic investments in clean energy and get real results in combating the threat of climate change, including 66% who would be say they would be VERY excited to support this candidate.
3. At the same time, the inverse is true: failing to act on climate and clean energy puts Democrats at risk of losing essential turnout targets and younger voters—including two-thirds of young Biden voters—in 2022.
- Nearly half of turnout targets and even larger numbers of young voters report that they would be LESS motivated to vote for Democrats if Democrats do not include clean energy and climate change efforts in the American Jobs Plan.
A full memo on both surveys, including their methodologies, can be found here.
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