The Potluck

Young adults apathetic about MN elections, survey finds

By: - October 19, 2022 5:59 am

A vote here sign at a polling place in Hugo in November 2020. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A month before elections for governor, U.S. House and other key races, a new survey from MinnPost and Embold Research finds that younger Minnesota adults are considerably less enthusiastic about voting than their older peers.

Seventy-two percent of registered voters age 18 to 34 said they would “definitely” vote this November, compared to 97 percent of those over age 65. And fewer than half of the youngest adults said they were “extremely” motivated to vote. Among seniors, that share was 90%.

Young voters have always been a turnout challenge for political parties, especially during midterm election years like this one. But there are signs that young adults are feeling especially disgruntled in 2022. Among Minnesotans age 18 to 34, 81% say the country is on the wrong track — the highest share among age groups. 

This spells trouble for Democrats, as younger voters have become an increasingly important part of their coalition. The party has sought to energize young voters with a focus on abortion rights, as well as policy initiatives like President Joe Biden’s college debt cancellation and the climate change legislation he recently signed.  

Regardless of their partisan preferences, young Minnesotans hold the most negative views of political candidates in the survey. Gov. Tim Walz is two points underwater with this group. Scott Jensen is 18 points in the hole. Biden’s negatives outweigh his positives by 24 points, while Donald Trump is more than 30 points in the red.

Those abysmal numbers across the board likely reflect several political realities. On one hand, the national Democratic party has transformed into a gerontocracy in recent years, led by an elderly leadership class — Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — that has been part of the national political scene for decades

The marginally younger Republican establishment, on the other hand, remains in thrall to an unpopular authoritarian, with a policy agenda – including abortion restrictions, attacks on LGBT rights and tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy – that’s anathema to the young. 

As a result, many younger voters feel like neither party is doing a good job of representing their interests. This leads to a vicious cycle: Political parties don’t cater to the young because the young don’t vote. And the young don’t vote because the parties don’t make an effort to court them.

It’s worth noting that a major political shift — like, say, a Supreme Court decision eliminating a right many Americans took for granted – could disrupt these dynamics. And there are signs that some young voters are responding to the Dobbs abortion decision with increased political engagement.

Nevertheless, it’s virtually certain that young Minnesota voters will once again turn out rates well below that of every other age group

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Christopher Ingraham
Christopher Ingraham

Christopher Ingraham covers greater Minnesota and reports on data-driven stories across the state. He's the author of the book "If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now," about his family's journey from the Baltimore suburbs to rural northwest Minnesota. He was previously a data reporter for the Washington Post.