Exit polls suggest Gen Z may have helped stop Republican red wave in U.S. midterms

The predicted Republican red wave of victories that failed to materialize in the U.S. midterm elections may have been impacted, at least in part, by young voters whose ballots may have made a significant difference in key races, some analysts say. (Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star/The Associated Press - image credit)
The predicted Republican red wave of victories that failed to materialize in the U.S. midterm elections may have been impacted, at least in part, by young voters whose ballots may have made a significant difference in key races, some analysts say. (Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star/The Associated Press - image credit)

The predicted Republican red wave of victories that failed to materialize in the U.S. midterm elections could have been impacted by young voters who, some analysts say, may have made a significant difference in key races.

"I'd say young people were definitely influential in preventing that wave," said Ruby Belle Booth, elections coordinator for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

CIRCLE is an independent research organization at Tufts University which focuses on youth civic engagement and conducts extensive research on youth participation.

"I don't think we can say young people are the only reason," she said.  "But I think that young people absolutely did have a role in preventing that red wave from materializing as it was predicted to."

Results continue to trickle in, but Republicans are coming closer to a narrow House majority. Control of the Senate continues to hinge on a few tight races.

Yet Republicans had been forecast to have a much stronger showing.

Gen Z leaned blue, exit polls suggest

Many observers, including Republicans and conservatives, are blaming the poor results on a backlash against former president Donald Trump and the controversial candidates he endorsed that went on to lose their respective races.

But young people may have also played a determining factor in the results, some analysts say.

"It's actually the same story for now three cycles in a row. When Gen Z entered the category of young American voters in 2018, we saw they had a significant impact in the 2018 midterm election," John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, told NPR in an interview.

"We saw a similar effect in 2020. So now, for the third election cycle in a row, younger Americans made the difference in state after state after state."

Early estimates have pegged that those aged 18 to 29 made up about 12 per cent of the total votes this election, which is similar to the 2018 midterms at 13 per cent. But CIRCLE estimated that 27 per cent of youth cast a ballot, the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades.

However, those votes often favoured Democratic candidates by a larger margin than the rest of the country, Belle Booth said. And in some key races, they may have made the difference.

Nuri Vallbona/Reuters
Nuri Vallbona/Reuters

For example, in the tight Pennsylvania senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, CIRCLE estimated that young people contributed "a significant portion" of Fetterman's margin over Oz. They estimated that youth ages 18-29 preferred Fetterman 70 per cent to 28 per cent and that young voters netted him 120,000 votes — more than half his margin of victory of about 220,000 votes.

In the Wisconsin governor's race, CIRCLE estimated 79,000 young voters chose Democratic incumbent Tony Evers, who defeated Republican Tim Michels by just 89,000 votes.

And in Kansas, young voters, who made up 14 per cent of the electorate, supported Democrat Laura Kelly for governor by 11 points, casting 11,000 net votes which bolstered her to a 15,000 vote victory over her Republican opponent, CIRCLE found.

"Because of their strong preference for Democratic candidates in those races, youth gave these candidates their strongest base of support," CIRCLE said in its report.

WATCH | John Fetterman beats Dr. Oz in key senate race:

To make these estimations, CIRCLE relied on exit polling data.  By taking the youth share and youth choice data provided by AP VoteCast, they estimated how many young people cast ballots for each candidate.

But data scientist David Skor cautioned about using exit polls to make a determination that it was the youth vote that saved Democrats these midterms.

"There's a really long pattern of exit polls kind of getting these basic questions wrong," he said. "The reality about exit polls is that most people don't answer them."

"I think that academics after several months, they can do their best to try to make them more compatible with external sources of data," he said. "Exit polls have a very poor track record of answering these kind of compositional questions."