Despite an especially polarized, bitter election season — with reports of voter suppression and misplaced ballots; the ongoing circulation of misinformation, including a misleading, preemptive declaration of victory by President Donald Trump; all cast in the long shadow of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — one shining success cuts through the muck. An astounding number of people turned out to cast their ballots and make their voices heard, including a mighty number of millennial and Gen Z voters.
Though ballots are still being counted in key battleground states, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, to determine the outcome of a close race, voter turnout in 2020 has already exceeded that of the 2016 election. A projection by NBC News on Wednesday morning (November 4) showed that at least 159.8 million Americans voted, and over 100 million of those, representing more than 47 percent of registered voters in the country, had been cast prior to Election Day. The projected vote would constitute over 66.8 percent voter turnout rate, a record high among eligible citizens since 1900.
But among the record-makers are young people ages 18–29, a powerful voting bloc that comprises approximately 20 percent of the nearly 240 million eligible voters in the United States. Millennials, who are often mistakenly derided by pundits for political apathy, have increasingly participated in voting since 2014, nearly doubling participation by 2018 to 42 percent. By last count, nearly 10 million young people had voted, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.
And while, overall, young people typically lean blue — a May Pew Research Center report stated that 61 percent of Gen Zers planned to vote Democrat, as opposed to 22 percent that intended to vote Republican — that affiliation breaks down significantly across demographics of race and ethnicity. The voices of young people of color, in particular, may have the power to tip the scale one way or the other, especially in critical swing states where votes are still being tallied.
In Arizona, a formerly red state where Biden leads at the time of this writing, CIRCLE reports that young, Latinx voters were 17 percent more likely than white youth to support the former vice president. In North Carolina and Georgia, young, white voters voted for Trump, while 90 percent of Black youth voted for Biden. And though Texas went red, as in 2016, 91 percent of Black youth and 73 percent of Latinx youth supported Biden.
These statistics prove that the youth vote is not a monolith, and they also show that political engagement is growing concurrently with other voting blocs. Now, it comes down to the last few swing states, and all that’s left to do is wait and ensure every ballot is counted. But no matter the outcome, one thing is certain: Young voters from all walks made their voices heard this election season.