Democrats might point to the results in the House of Representatives to say that last night was a good night. Republicans might point to the results in the Senate and say the exact same thing.
But regardless of your party label (or lack thereof), if you’re a young voter in Virginia, last night was a GREAT night.
Our good friends at the Virginia Public Access Project were diligently tracking the election results yesterday evening while simultaneously providing us with some real-time analysis of those results. VPAP pulls data from what we will call “college” precincts (precincts with more than half of voters under age 25 and located on or adjacent to a college campus) as well as “millennial” precincts (precincts NOT located on or next to a college campus, but where voters under 40 make up more than 60% of the voting population). By pulling data from these precincts, VPAP is able to provide us with turnout estimates among these two groups of young voters. And the turnout numbers from last night are striking.
One fairly reliable pattern in politics is this: young voters turn out to vote in lower numbers than the population as a whole. This gap narrows in presidential years but widens in midterms and state/local elections. In the 2016 presidential election, 72% of Virginia voters showed up to the polls, while 53% of “college” precinct voters and 51% of “millennial” precinct voters did. Those are gaps of 19% and 21%, respectively. Based on the aforementioned voting pattern, we would expect those gaps to widen, possibly significantly, in a midterm election.
HOWEVER, what happened last night in Virginia was the exact opposite of conventional wisdom.
Statewide turnout fell to about 59% yesterday. But turnout in college precincts was at 43%, and turnout in millennial precincts was a whopping 47%. So in a midterm year, the turnout gap between young voters and everyone else actually shrank, to 16% and 12%, respectively. A higher percentage of young voters from the 2016 presidential election came back out to vote in a midterm election than did the state’s voters as a whole.
This is a remarkable feat and a complete reversal of longstanding historical trends. The millennial precinct results, in particular, are stunning - a turnout decrease of just 4% from a presidential to a midterm election is tiny, especially when you consider that the statewide turnout decreased by over 13%. And all of this comes on the heels of a 2017 gubernatorial election wherein young voters turned out in unprecedented numbers as well.
So, if you really hate numbers or are a tl;dr kind of person, I’ll summarize the good news like this: young voters across the Commonwealth are starting to turn out in EVERY. SINGLE. ELECTION. This is huge, and also sort of the whole point of our organization so, yay!
Now that you are feeling great, time for the not-so-good news. Young voters are still not showing up at the same rates as everyone else. Just because this has been the case for a long time and just because the gap is narrowing doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, at least not to us. Young voters in Virginia have the potential to be THE most powerful force in politics, but it requires showing up, and showing up in every single election. The young people who showed up in 2016 were back out in force last night, but there are still way too many sitting out. As the ones who are showing up and making your voices count, you all have a responsibility to make sure your friends, peers, classmates, and everyone else in your network is registered, informed, and participating. It’s no easy task, but I believe the young leaders of the Commonwealth are up for it. Last night showed us how far young voters in Virginia have come, but also how far we still have left to go. It’s up to all of you to help get us there.
*screenshots courtesy of the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project