High Young Voter Turnout Crucial To Blue Wave, Per Harvard Analysis

Full house at IOP watch party
Students take in the 2018 midterm election results at an Institute of Politics watch party held Tuesday night.

Voters between the ages of 18 and 29 were absolutely crucial to the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, according to a Harvard Institute of Politics analysis of the 2018 midterm elections conducted and released Wednesday.

Thirty-one percent of voters under 30 voted in the 2018 election, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. Voters in this age bracket made up approximately 13 percent of the electorate, with exit polls showing that this younger voting bloc preferred Democratic candidates by a 31 point margin.

In the 2014 midterm elections, by comparison, young voters represented 10 percent of the national electorate. Republicans have held the House since 2010 and still maintain their control over the United States Senate after Tuesday’s elections.

"Young Americans have made a choice to become more active participants in our democracy, and that might be one of the only benefits of our increasingly divided country,” IOP Director of Polling John Della Volpe wrote in a press release announcing the study. “During the midterm season young voters were a critical force in flipping the House and engaged at levels not seen in generations.”


The results follow findings from the fall 2018 IOP young voter poll that showed 40 percent of respondents were likely to cast a ballot in the midterm elections — double the recorded turnout of 19.9 percent for 18- to 29-year-olds in the 2014 midterm elections, per census data.

Young voters also turned out in high numbers during early and absentee voting, according to the IOP analysis. The number of voters under 30 who voted early this year rose more than did the number of early voters belonging to any other age group in the electorate. The percentage of early voters under 30 spiked from 5.39 percent in 2014 to 8.67 percent in 2018 — a difference of more than 2.1 million votes.

Della Volpe also said young voters played a “crucial role” in giving Democrats an edge in the Nevada Senate race, Texas’s 23rd congressional district, and Georgia’s 6th congressional district. He said that, had young voter turnout remained at levels seen in previous midterms, these seats “would likely not have flipped from Republican to Democratic control.”

The IOP analysis also noted that young voters caused the Texas Senate race — in which incumbent Ted Cruz faced off against El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke — to be more competitive than polls had presaged. Cruz ultimately won re-election.

Theodore “Teddy” N. Landis ’20, student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, said this year's increased young voter turnout sets the bar high for future elections.

“I do think this sets a precedent that our politicians will need to listen to young people in the future,” Landis said. “We're a demographic group with distinct policy preferences, and they'd be wise to pay attention to that."

Della Volpe wrote in the press release that the youngest American voters “seem prepared to further engage in politics and policy.” He also noted that young voters are demanding “a more progressive domestic agenda” including gun control legislation.

“We fully expect that they will play a significant role in shaping our country's future through their commitment to service and renewed interest in politics,” Della Volpe wrote.

Correction: Nov. 11, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the IOP found that 31 percent of voters under 30 voted in the 2018 election. In fact, the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found the statistic, which an IOP memo later reported.

— Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.


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