How young voters made the “red wave” midterm a red mirage

Tyler Jackman

Anchor Staff Writer

Image via Kammeran Gonzalez-Keola/Pexels

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a plan — since stricken down — to cancel portions of student debt for borrowers across the country. Though the plan elicited caution from some, the castigation from the Republican Party was summed up no better than by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on his podcast. Did he lament that while student debt was a heavy cross to bear, this decision would be economically unsound? No. In fact, he lambasted the “slacker barista” that is “studying completely useless things” and now may “get off the bong for a minute and head down to the voting station.”


If you were to turn on any national news channel during the midterm election cycle, the anticipation of an electoral red wave crashing down made it feel inevitable. Even in Rhode Island, a blue state, pollsters and pundits made the success of former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in the state’s open congressional race seem a decided conclusion. Yet, Democratic nominee and general treasurer, Seth Magaziner, triumphed and the prophesied red wave was reduced to a mirage. Politicos and analysts are scrambling to decipher why this midterm defied expectations, but there is no more undeniable factor than the role young voters played in forming a blue wall.


No matter how results exactly pan out once all vote counting is completed, it’s apparent this midterm cycle did not carry the momentum Republicans hoped for. One group which did shift said momentum, however, was the growing ranks of young voters in the nation. Exit polls from the midterms also indicate that while the numbers of active Gen Z and millennial voters continue to grow, they tend to swing towards the Democrat candidates, especially in the case of Gen Z.


The case of why exactly this bloc of voters tends to swing towards the Democratic Party isn’t party loyalty, but a case of the Republicans losing sight of the youth’s values. A Morning Consult study found that Gen Z has rapidly lost trust in institutions such as policing and governance, and widely support movements for reform such as the Black Lives Matter movement. A diminutive number of Republicans, like U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), marched and demanded reform with young activists, but President Donald Trump and Republican politicians threatened military force, called them terrorists, and worked to pass laws to protect those who commit violence against protesters.


If not on police reform, are there any issues the Republicans can relate to with young voters? What of abortion? Since the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, Gen Z and millennials have widely shown support for reproductive rights across the country. Instead of this being a rallying cry for the Republicans to reasonably moderate their stance, they instead opted to tie themselves into a knot on the issue. Candidates like Hershel Walker in Georgia rapidly flip-flopped from supporting total abortion bans to supporting exceptions, and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham’s attempts to introduce a federal abortion limiting bill muddied the messaging of the Republican Party.


So far, Republicans are 0-2 on issues relevant to young voters. Is there anything that they had reached out and empathized with this voting bloc on? What of voting rights? That, too, has been a major bust this midterm cycle. Under the grip of President Trump’s influence, the Republican Party ran swathes of candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and campaign on voting restrictions. These candidates, such as Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, were widely rejected by the country’s voters.


Perhaps the Republicans can meet in the middle on climate? Not quite. Doug Mastriano called it “fake science” and “a racket at the academic level,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) used an expletive to reject climate science and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) urged that, “We need to hold Democrats accountable and defund all of their climate garbage.” Could they be more out of touch with the younger generations? It’s hard to tell when the large majority of Gen Z and millennial voters support drastic climate action to preserve future generations. Until very recently, even overseas right-wing parties like the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party have supported measures to reign in climate change. The Tories have only begun to steer into a collision course on this issue, but the Republican Party has had their heads buried in the oil-drenched sand for decades.


This midterm year could conceivably be a learning lesson for the Republican Party on shifting their messaging to court young voters. Likely not. As election deniers, activist attackers and climate skeptics have been delivered harsh blows, the majority of the Republican Party continue to platform this rhetoric to the highest levels. As they continue to do so, and continue to be delivered humbling results at the ballot box, Republican strategists will continue scratching their heads on why the punches keep coming. That answer is clear; they’ve disrespected the youth, and thus lost the youth.


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