Young voters powered Democrats’ wins in 2022. Will they show up for Biden?

Voters wait in line
High turnout from young voters drove Democratic victories in key races in November’s midterm elections. Above, voters in line at City Hall in Philadelphia.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
Share via

The more we get data about who voted in 2022, the stronger the evidence that young voters played a crucial role in Democrats’ midterm victories.

Those millennial and Gen Z voters will also be critical to who wins next year’s presidential election, which is why strategists in both parties are carefully scrutinizing last year’s vote.

The latest analysis comes from Catalist, a large data firm that serves Democrats, unions and other progressive organizations. Its report, released Thursday, is part of a “What Happened” series the firm has done after each of the last several elections.

As with other examinations of who voted, Catalist bases its analysis primarily on the voter files each state maintains — public records that show who voted, although not whom they voted for, along with basic information on each voter’s age, gender and, in some states, race or ethnicity. The firm supplements that with polling and its own large-scale voter model, which its clients use to guide where to focus attention during campaigns.

This year’s report highlighted two major factors in the midterm outcome — young voters and white, working-class women.

Youth-vote surged in contested races

As I’ve written before, the 2022 election didn’t have a singular pattern. Instead, two emerged — one in heavily contested states where abortion was a major issue, the other in less contested places.


“In 2022, there was no national wave in either direction. Instead, Republicans enjoyed an overall advantage nationally, but Democrats outperformed them in highly contested races,” the Catalist report said.

In some heavily contested states, the number of people voting rose significantly, even compared with 2018, which broke century-old records for turnout in a midterm election. In Arizona and New Hampshire, for example, the number of people voting rose 8 percentage points compared with 2018. Pennsylvania was 6 points higher, and Nevada was 4. Each of those states featured a hot race for the Senate, and all but New Hampshire also had high-profile races for governor.

By contrast, in less contested states, turnout fell. Nationwide, just over 111 million people voted, down from 118 million in 2018, but more than any other previous midterm, continuing the string of high-turnout elections that began with Donald Trump’s 2016 win.

“When we think about 2024, the battleground states are going to be hotly contested,” said Michael Frias, chief executive of Catalist. The 2022 numbers suggest that in those battleground states, 2024 has potential to once again feature very high turnout, he said.

In the contested 2022 states, the turnout increase was especially strong among younger voters — those in the millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (born in 1997 or later).

“That speaks to what motivates young people,” said John Della Volpe, who directs the annual poll of American young people conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics and whose book, “Fight,” focuses on the politics of Gen Z voters. Unlike some older people who vote habitually, “they vote when they believe their vote makes a difference.”

Nationwide, the millennial and Gen Z age groups grew to 26% of voters in 2022, up 3 points from 2020, Catalist found. Meanwhile, the oldest generations in the electorate, those born in 1945 and earlier, declined. The baby boom generation remained the largest age cohort, making up 38% of voters.


Those trends favor Democrats: Just under two-thirds of voters 18 to 29 (Gen Z plus the youngest of the millennials) cast ballots for Democrats, Catalist estimates. Voters 65 and older, by contrast, have been a mainstay of the GOP in recent years.

The 2022 midterm marked the fourth major election in a row — 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022 — in which Democrats got more than 60% of the ballots of young voters — a consistent hallmark of the Trump era, the report noted.

“Donald Trump’s unpopularity may be politicizing a generation of voters away from the Republican Party and toward Democrats,” the firm said.

That, Della Volpe said, may turn out to be the most lasting part of Trump’s legacy.

“Presidential cycles are a time when a generation of young people are thinking about who they are, their role in society,” he said. During Trump’s presidency, “tens of millions of American voters were shaped through the lens of MAGA,” Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, he said. Among young Americans, more than 6 in 10 have “values that aren’t aligned with MAGA and Trump.”

White working-class women shift toward Democrats

The rise in the youth vote doesn’t mean Republicans are doomed to future defeat. But the growing political clout of millennial and Gen Z voters does pose a challenge to the way the GOP has defined itself — as the voice of white, mostly rural, older conservative voters whose values sharply diverge from those of the more diverse, urban-oriented younger generations.

For Republicans, one way out of that box would be to increase their appeal to Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander voters, especially to those who did not graduate from college. Several Republican strategists and writers have urged the party to head in that direction, building on its base of non-college-educated white voters to become a working-class party with support across racial and ethnic lines.


The 2022 numbers provide some evidence of movement in that direction: Black voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic, for example, but their support for Democratic candidates dropped several points in 2022. Their turnout was also down, especially among the youngest voters, as previous studies of the 2022 vote have shown.

But Latino voters, among whom the Republicans made inroads in 2020, showed no significant change in 2022.

And overall, the GOP has a long way to go if it’s going to become a truly multiracial party: In 2022, 86% of Republican voters were white — 55% white voters without a college degree and 31% white voters with college degrees. Voters of color made up only one-seventh of the coalition.

By contrast, voters of color made up one-third of the Democratic coalition. The other two-thirds were split roughly equally between college-educated and non-college-educated white voters.

Trump’s four years in office accelerated a long-term shift of white college-educated voters toward the Democrats. In 2018, their support was key to Nancy Pelosi’s ability to regain a majority of the House.

This time around, the story was different: The Catalist numbers suggest the college-educated shift toward the Democrats may have topped off. College-educated white men, in fact, shifted a few points toward the GOP nationally in 2022.


Instead, it was non-college-educated white women who shifted most. Support for Democratic candidates among working-class white women grew by 4 points in the highly contested states, Catalist estimates.

That’s important because non-college-educated white women are “a core part of the GOP strategy” for winning in the future, Frias said.

Democrats’ ability to gain ground with that group owed heavily to the “seismic impact” of the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overturn Roe vs. Wade and end a half-century-old guarantee of nationwide abortion rights, Frias said. “It was a real, palpable example of going too far.”

That appears to still be the view of most voters, judging by local and statewide elections this year. In Wisconsin, a liberal judge last month won election to the state Supreme Court. In Florida and Colorado, Democrats on Tuesday won elections as mayors of cities Republicans had dominated. And in Pennsylvania, Democrats broke the Republican hold on the state Legislature.

The GOP doesn’t seem ready to shift course; voters seem ready to keep punishing them.

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

The latest from the campaign trail

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins headed to prime time after Trump town hall

Fresh off of moderating a widely panned town hall with Trump, Kaitlan Collins is moving up to prime time at CNN, Stephen Battaglio reported. The “CNN This Morning” co-host and former White House correspondent will take over the 9 p.m. Eastern hour for the cable news network this fall.

The latest from Washington

Supreme Court says Illinois may ban sale of rapid-fire assault weapons for now

The Supreme Court on Wednesday turned down a 2nd Amendment appeal from gun owners and let stand for now an Illinois law banning the sale of the rapid-fire assault weapons that have been used to carry out mass shootings across the country. In an unsigned order with no dissents, the justices rejected an emergency appeal that asked them to block a local ordinance and the state ban from taking effect, David Savage reported.

Supreme Court dismisses challenges to the Section 230 legal shield that protects websites

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a major challenge to the legal shield known as Section 230 that has protected websites from being sued for what users post. In a short unsigned opinion, the court said it would not rule on the potentially momentous issue because the plaintiffs who sued had no valid claims that Twitter or Google had aided terrorists, which was the foundation of the lawsuit, Savage reported.


Supreme Court rejects Andy Warhol’s use of copyrighted photo of Prince

Andy Warhol’s posters of Prince, some shaded purple and others orange, may have been works of art, but they infringed the copyright of the photographer who captured the original image of the musician, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday. In a 7-2 decision, the justices upheld the power of copyrights and mostly rejected the claim that artists and others may freely use original works if they transform them into something new and different, Savage reported.

Threat of U.S. debt default upends Biden’s trip to the Pacific

President Biden arrived at the Group of 7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on Thursday with a substantial to-do list: Reassure Western allies of U.S. commitments in the Indo-Pacific region while calling for economic unity against China and Russia. But political dysfunction at home was undermining Biden’s foreign policy agenda even before Air Force One took off from the U.S. on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday he scrapped plans to visit Papua New Guinea and Australia next week, and will instead return to Washington this weekend for ongoing debt limit negotiations with congressional Republicans, Courtney Subramanian reported.

Why border crossings have fallen since Trump-era rules expired last week

Fewer migrants are crossing the southern border of the U.S., and the doomsday scenarios that many politicians feared would follow the expiration of the pandemic-era restrictions known as Title 42 have not materialized. The reasons for the decline in border crossings are still unclear — and the trend still in its infancy — but interviews with migrants offer some possible explanations, Hamed Aleaziz and Patrick McDonnell reported.


8-year-old girl dies in Border Patrol custody

An 8-year-old girl died in Border Patrol custody in Texas on Wednesday, officials said. The death occurred at a local hospital, Aleaziz reported.

The latest from California

Larry Elder fined for failing to disclose income during 2021 gubernatorial recall campaign

GOP presidential candidate Larry Elder has agreed to pay a $2,000 fine for violating the state Political Reform Act while running for governor during the 2021 recall election, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, Seema Mehta reported.

Newsom touts $60-million plan for ‘fishway’ along Yuba River; critics say it falls short

Citing the need to boost survival rates for imperiled salmon and sturgeon along the heavily dammed Yuba River, state, local and federal officials have announced a $60-million plan to build a channel that will allow fish to swim easily around a dam that has impeded their passage for more than a century. Joined by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, officials announced that the fishway would bypass the DaGuerre Point Dam, in Marysville, and allow spring-run Chinook salmon, green sturgeon, steelhead and lamprey to access 10 to 12 miles of spawning habitat upstream, Alex Wigglesworth reported.


Column: Newsom and California lawmakers need to say where they stand on reparations for slavery

Gov. Newsom and the California Legislature will soon receive a sweeping set of recommended reparations for African Americans whose ancestors suffered economically from slavery and racial discrimination. Then what? Then the governor and lawmakers will need to emerge from cover, face the public and devise a better response than we’ve been hearing: “I’m waiting for the final report of recommendations,” George Skelton writes in his column.

Here are some of the 300 bills California Democrats killed amid $31.5-billion deficit

Democratic leaders at the California Capitol killed nearly 300 bills on Thursday during the ritual fast-paced culling of legislation in the mysterious “suspense file.” Officially, the suspense file is a tool for legislative leaders to evaluate costly bills by weighing them against one another and deciding what to advance to a vote by the Senate and Assembly. Unofficially, it’s used as a way for Democrats who control the Legislature to snuff out controversial bills with few fingerprints, Laurel Rosenhall, Hannah Wiley and Mackenzie Mays reported.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting.

Stay in touch

Keep up with breaking news on our Politics page. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox.

Until next time, send your comments, suggestions and news tips to