Young people historically vote at lower rates, typically, than other age groups, and that has been especially true of the midterms. But this year, registration for younger voters is up substantially, with some studies anticipating the highest youth turnout in decades. We wanted to know what issues are motivating young people at such impressive rates this year, so we asked. In just a few days we had more than 800 passionate, sharp and often surprising responses.
The respondents frequently mentioned climate change, no matter their party affiliation, and health care, as well as a fear of the country’s growing political divide.
Many who said they were either too naïve or unconcerned to participate in past elections seemed doubly eager to exercise their right this time around.
For Lea Klock, 22, of Michigan, her youth had everything to do with her reason for voting. “I am tired of older Americans deciding everything in this country,” she wrote. “A deficit is something that I will have to pay off; climate change will be the problem of my generation; and discrimination will be the ugly legacy that I will have to explain to my children.”
Distrust of Democrats
Brayden Smith, 22, Las Vegas
I am a registered Republican and voted early in the midterms, but in 2016 I didn’t vote for Donald J. Trump or for Hillary Clinton. And, like just about everyone else, I’m not a huge fan of the current Republicans in Congress. But the actions of the Democrats lately have been, to my mind, damaging to this country’s foundational ideas and values.
Neither party is blameless, but to me, the Democrats deserve the bulk of the blame. When elections are called fraudulent, rights established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights treated as optional and the basic functioning of government routinely interrupted by a heckler, I have to wonder who’s done more to foster distrust in our institutions.
The sloganeering tactics Democrats have used in the past few years are identical to those of the radical left-wing students I see on campus every day.
I didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms. I was going to college out of state and didn’t care to figure out how to vote absentee. But what is happening now is so deeply illiberal and wrong that I needed to speak, no matter how small my voice might be.
Roberta Wasserman, 18, Parkland, Fla.
As a Parkland resident, I am still plagued by the thoughts and sights that I witnessed on and after the Feb. 14 shooting. As an American Jew, I am horrified and shocked about the anti-Semitic violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last month. In St. Louis, where I attend college, I have noticed how deeply gun violence affects the community around my university. Just two blocks away, a single road separates the safety I feel in my dorm room from rampant gun violence in an impoverished neighborhood. Each and every one of my communities — home, synagogue and school — are threatened by lax gun laws.
Kajal Dave, 20, Chandler, Ariz.
I am fed up with the inaction on climate change. I don’t care if I have to pay more for electricity or if my tax rate goes up. I am fortunate enough that I can handle it and take on some of the burden for those who can’t. I’ll give up some comforts now if that means I will have a future into which I feel comfortable bringing children.
It’s going to take money, hard work, sacrifice and pain. But the sooner we start, the better we can control our destiny.
Karima Al-Absy, 29, Papillion, Neb.
Medicaid expansion is on the ballot in Nebraska, which would make life easier for thousands of people in this state. Kara Eastman, the Democratic candidate in Nebraska’s second district, is running for Congress and I love that she doesn’t accept corporate PAC money and that she supports affordable health care and education. I’m fortunate because I can afford my health insurance and I’m pretty healthy, but I know plenty of people who simply can’t make insurance work.
Patrick Wynne, 24, Phoenix
If I had to pick one issue that has always motivated me to vote, it would be entitlement reform. As someone with forty working years ahead of me, I don’t want Social Security when I retire. Every year we sink an increasing portion of all federal spending into mandatory entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. This may sound a little Paul Ryan-ish of me, but it’s a real problem and it’s bad that both parties run away from this “third rail” of American politics. Today’s Republican Party has essentially abandoned the principle altogether. The sooner we get young people saving for their own retirements, the better off we’ll all be in the long run.
Evan Malbrough, 20, Atlanta
Georgia’s Hope Scholarship is the only reason I am in college and I work hard to keep the grades to maintain it. I would like to see an expansion of the scholarship so that more students have access, as well as more funds.
Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s Democratic candidate for governor, wants to expand access to Hope as well as add a need-based funding component to further help underprivileged students. I like that she is standing her ground as a progressive in a state that has been historically conservative. She pushes on even though the odds and the system are stacked against her. To me, that is the perfect representation of what it means to be a Georgian.
Matthew Espinal, 20, Cypress Hills, Brooklyn
We need individuals in office that recognize student debt as a top priority. I fear living a life where I cannot climb the economic ladder because of my student loan debt. My parents were able to save and become homeowners but I fear I won’t be able to do the same.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, running for re-election in New York, is the best fit for my beliefs. He has said that ignoring climate change is a gross negligence by the government and he has shown interest in rebuilding education in the state and making public college tuition free for many.
Bernal Cortés, 18, South Bend, Ind.
As the son of a Cuban political exile I cannot sit back and watch the slander and defamation of immigrants continue. The rhetoric coming from the Trump administration is unacceptable. The most recent attacks on immigration — Trump’s proposed executive order to eliminate birthright citizenship and his deployment of troops to the border — have left me shocked.
Because I vote in Indiana, I can’t support Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, but just hearing about his candidacy has excited me. He has promised to end the militarization of border control, to resolve DACA by passing a clean DREAM act and to modernize the visa process.
Noah, 23, New York
These elections are simply a referendum on the Trump agenda.
I’m happy with the current job the president is doing. I don’t agree with him on everything — his affinity for tariffs and trade wars, for instance, and his disregard of climate change and some social issues, like restrictions on abortion — but as a recent college graduate, I’m happy with what he’s done for the country’s economic performance, particularly tax cuts. And I’m in agreement about immigration issues. We need a secure border and to end chain migration and the lottery system.
I want Trump’s positions on these issues to continue full throttle and I don’t want to see gridlock for the next two years if the Democrats regain power.
Austin Pugh, 22, Denton, Tex.
I’m excited to help re-elect Texas Supreme Court Justices Jeff Brown, Jimmy Blacklock and John Devine. The judiciary is my main reason for voting. I find that only those who view the law as it was originally written may call themselves fair judges and justices, all else are but judicial activists. I also want to reinforce our immigration courts and agents so that we may better enforce our laws and limit legal immigration and amnesty.
Rebecca, 22, Alabama
There’s a joke in Alabama that we rank next to last in everything except football. I’d like that to change in my lifetime.
I want candidates who espouse fundamental conservative values and have a record of bipartisanship. I’m missing the voices of certain conservatives of integrity and moral courage on the national level, like John McCain, and am now searching for that representation in local races.
Lately, it seems every Republican is a “Christian conservative outsider” and their opponents are all “for open borders,” and that tells me nothing about what they will do for my state. I will not support Will Ainsworth for lieutenant governor. He campaigned on being a Christian conservative and then ran some nasty ads against his opponent, Twinkle Cavanaugh, in the primary runoff. That tells me you simply have nothing more intelligent to say. I plan to write in someone else.
Carter Tamlyn, 28, Dallas
Defending the free market, promoting a growing economy in Texas, defunding Planned Parenthood — abortion is this country’s biggest black eye — and term limits for Congress are what’s important to me. Limited government and strict interpretation of the Constitution are in the best interest of our country. But this president is not truly conservative.
There are some days where I see tax breaks, a growing economy and lowered unemployment rates and think “Hey, things are getting better.” Then the president tweets a porn star and calls her “horse face.”
It is challenging to separate some of the conservative policy from the abrasive and offensive language coming from the Oval Office.
Astarte Howell, 28, Chicago
I’m tired of people who don’t look like me or share my experiences constantly making decisions for me. I’m tired of old, rich white people, predominantly men, speaking for me and deciding what I do with my body and my life. It isn’t fair that they make the decisions but don’t have to live with the effects of those decisions.
I will vote for candidates with the overarching values that I support: stricter gun control, reuniting undocumented families and keeping abortion legal. This election is so important because the real power lies with officials in Congress. They’re the ones that pass or block bills. They are what really needs fixing.
Keturah Reed, 27, Cincinnati
Our country can and should do better. Gun reform, social services, health care and education are all issues that affect my life and those I love. I exercise my right to vote because it hasn’t always been a right for people who look like me. It allows my voice to be heard and is an opportunity to keep politicians accountable.
Rachel Nix, 20, Huntington, W.Va.
I’m voting to protect the rights of women, the LGBTQ+, immigrants and refugees. On the state level, there’s an amendment on the ballot in West Virginia that would essentially eliminate abortion access for underprivileged women. This initiative, Amendment 1, would amend the state’s Constitution, cutting off Medicaid funding to women seeking an abortion, and opening the door to completely outlawing abortion in the state should Roe v. Wade be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It has disastrous implications for women’s autonomy.
Joe Manchin, the incumbent Democratic Senator, hasn’t had much of a spine when it comes to standing up to the president, but I will vote for him because Patrick Morrisey, his conservative Republican challenger, would be even more devastating.
Senna Casey, 22, Phoenix
I just want to have a say in what happens to my body. I want to know that if I am sexually assaulted again, and I choose to come forward this time, I’ll be treated fairly. The Supreme Court nomination process of Justice Kavanaugh left me panicked. Every single reason I had for not coming forward was validated during those hearings.
I want to feel safe walking in my front door and not be worried that my little sister is going to be shot while at school. I want to be able to afford my student loans, and still have a few dollars left over. There have been days that I’ve gone without eating just so I had enough gas to get to work.
I’m supporting any and all Democratic candidates. I need to have the tide turn blue so that I can keep living.
Aric Gorman, 21, Sand Springs, Okla.
I believe keeping taxes lower while cutting spending will help the economy grow. Treating drugs as a mental health issue and not a crime is necessary to keep nonviolent offenders from serving long sentences, which leads to broken homes.
You can vote for people even if you don’t support 100 percent of their policies. We need more unity and working across the aisle. I’m supporting Kevin Stitt, a Republican, for governor of Oklahoma, and Mark Myles, a Democrat, for attorney general. Myles will stay tough on crime, but he will also be compassionate to those with addictions who need and want help. Stitt will help our economy. His business endeavors speak for him.
Matt, 28, Philadelphia
I think of myself as a moderate caught in the middle. I lean right on fiscal policy, but left on social issues and have supported policies pushed by both major parties. I don’t believe most gun control policies have any logical merit, but I also don’t believe climate change is a myth. Universal health care and improving safety nets for the disenfranchised are fantastic ideas, but I have different feelings about how these things should be accomplished.
I’ve voted in every major election since I became eligible in 2008. We get the world we deserve. Not voting, while certainly making a statement, does not move us forward, in most cases. But until a more moderate candidate emerges from either major party, I find it difficult to be inspired by either extreme.