Young voters now make up a third of the electorate, and their voting power will only continue to grow as more Gen Zers come of voting age. But more important than eligibility is the question of turnout: Will this vocal generation head to the polls for the midterms this November?
U.S. elections in 2018 and 2020 both saw record turnout for young voters: Among 18- to 29-year-olds, turnout jumped 16 percentage points from the 2014 midterms (20%) to 2018 (36%), and 11 percentage points from 2016 (39%) to 2020 (50%). Though we hope to see this number jump again in the 2022 midterms, two factors are at play here:
1. Growing skepticism about election fairness and the U.S. government in general could pose a threat to this upward trajectory on both sides, as shown in a July 2022 New York Timessurvey: voter suppression, gerrymandering and the Supreme Court on the left; the stolen-election narrative on the right.
2. Both the 2018 and 2022 elections saw a notable discrepancy between the number of registered voters and those who actually voted.
With this in mind, the Ad Council Research Institute (ACRI) and MTV Entertainment (MTVE) embarked on a partnership this year to get a better understanding of the voting attitudes and perceptions among younger Americans (ages 18-29) on the 2022 midterm elections, to understand what brands and causes can do to motivate and encourage them to vote, and to bridge the divide of registered versus actual voters to drive more young voices to be heard.
Through a mixed-methods research study (environmental scan, social listening analysis, qualitative online discussion, quantitative online survey), we identified a few key findings:
Over half of young people plan to vote in the 2022 midterms—with an additional fifth undecided.
The majority of young Americans (59%) reported in the survey that they’re planning to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, with an additional 21% so far undecided. That means at least a fifth of young Americans can still be swayed to cast their vote this November.
More than half of young Americans believe it’s their duty as a citizen to vote in every election, and that voting is a way for their voice to be heard.
However, they also expressed some negative sentiment about the voting system and voting general: Political elections are too influenced by money (65%), elections have too much corruption (62%), campaigning never seems to end (58%). Less than half trust that every vote counts (45%) or believe that their vote will make a difference (43%); even fewer trust the security of the voting process (41%), or believe that nothing will change regardless of who they vote for (40%).
Young voters recognize the importance of researching before voting—and a third have already started.
The majority of young voters (69%) say it’s important to research candidates/issues on the ballot before voting. Most (62%) begin or plan to begin the research process at least a month before voting, while a third (34%) have already begun. Overall, just over half (54%) said it’s easy to find information on how to vote in person. Fewer (45%) said it’s easy to find information on how to vote by mail, and more than a third (39%) admit to being overwhelmed by the voting process and the news/information available.
In addition to attitudes and behaviors around voting, we also tested four message frames to determine the messaging young Americans find most motivating to drive voter turnout.
“Empowerment” message frames tested highest for young voters across all categories.
Young Americans found the “Empowerment” message frame, highlighting that they are in control of their generation's future, the most motivating, appealing, relevant and believable message to driving voter turnout. Following “Empowerment,” young voters found “Issues” motivating as well; however, the language of feeling hopeless in that frame deterred some.
Based on feedback from qualitative and quantitative phases, the following message frames have been further revised, and can help brands and causes seeking to build new creative campaigns to motivate young Americans to vote this November.
They call our generation “America’s future,” and they’re correct: We’re the ones who will be living in the world being built today, so it’s our right and responsibility to take care of it. We vote in every election because every election affects our lives and we hold the power to affect every election. We will have our say in what to change today and what to protect for tomorrow. This is our chance to step up and share our ideas, opinions and experiences. We will fulfill our duty to leave a better world for the next generation. We will vote.
Only we know which issues are most important to us and how we want to handle them. These issues need and deserve our voice and our votes. We’ve seen the country take notice when we work together to spotlight an issue we care about. We’ve brought America’s attention to some very big issues lately. Even when we’re not satisfied with the outcome, we stood up for our beliefs in every way we could ... and we are ready to do it again the next time. We will remember that our combined voices carry the power to ignite change and never give up on the people and issues that need our help.
It’s an innately American quality to see a problem and boldly declare, “We can do better. Let’s try another way.” This passion speaks to something deep within us that wants to act, that wants to share our ideas, that wants to be part of creating positive change in this country. And our teachers and parents and heroes have been right: Change starts with one person taking one step. When we’re inspired to act, we inspire others, and soon we’re on our way to fighting for what we care about–together. It’s up to each one of us to accept personal responsibility for standing up and saying, “I’m in! Let’s try another way.”
Creating a Moment
Every Election Day creates a moment for defining the future we want to help create. Midterm elections create a moment to choose who sits in Congress; we vote because these are the people who make so many decisions that affect our lives. Local elections create a moment to decide who gets the power to make our day-to-day lives better and easier (or worse and more difficult). This Election Day, we’re going to shoulder our responsibility in these moments to elect who we want to govern us.
On a positive note, our Young Voter Turnout study found that young Americans know voting is important, they take it seriously, and for the most part, they plan to take part in it. But they aren’t immune to the negative discourse around the elections process or the impact of voting—factors that are contributing to some young people’s decisions not to vote in the upcoming midterms.
Brands, causes and organizations have many opportunities to reach and motivate this age group for the 2022 midterm elections and elections of the future, with messaging that’s educational and empowering, delivered by trusted messengers and accessible through often-used sources.
As our country’s future, young Americans should have a say in how our government is built and led. It’s up to them to make their voices heard, and it’s up to us - the brands and causes informing them - to help them understand just how important their voting power can be.