Reporting by Janaya Banks, Andrea Bates, Maizie Hummel-Logee, Daniel Jimenez, Erica Jones, Mina Jue, Harrison O’Brien, Daya Rodriguez and Janiya Williams.
Youth turnout in the 2020 election was higher than in any previous presidential election cycle. Fifty percent of people ages 18 to 29 voted, up from 39% in 2016, according to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tuft’s University.
As the 2022 midterm elections approach, many are wondering whether young voters will turn out in large numbers, and what that will mean for congressional and local elections. Students from Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin’s Intro to Journalism class sought to find out by asking local youth, and a few older people, about their attitudes toward voting in the upcoming midterm elections.
Some young people voiced a lack of confidence that voting would make any difference, or a lack of interest in the process. “I don’t think it really matters if I vote or not because it doesn’t really count in a way,” said Leah Schiffer, 21 of Chicago. “I pretty much just leave it to the middle-aged voters like my parents who actually discuss and care about politics.”
Others said they wouldn’t vote because they were no longer invested in the country and its political system. “I don’t really pay attention to politics to be honest,” said Gregory Perña, 22, of Chicago. “I’ve never voted in my life and don’t plan to, as want to live overseas after I graduate.”
And others are simply frustrated because they don’t know where to turn for reliable information about candidates. “I feel that I don’t get enough information or the information that does come out to me feels super polarized and it’s hard to find neutral media sources,” said Paley Bass, 19, of Portland, Oregon.
Not all young voters feel uninformed, though. “When it comes to youth voting, I think it’s important for the younger voice to have a say and have the option to give their opinions, especially for those who are well-versed in politics, because many times teenagers are more educated on the topic,” said Payton Hall, 18, of Arlington Heights.
For other young people, skepticism about the purpose of voting has given way to a recognition of the importance of voting. Medina Griffin, 22, of Chicago said she was previously uninterested in voting, but is motivated now because of the positions some candidates take on issues that matter to her personally. “I will be voting in the upcoming election because of how abortion rights affect me and the ones around me,” she said.
Kaiya Amarii, 20 of Gary, Indiana, also wasn’t engaged in electoral politics in the past. “I have never voted because I dislike the government,” she said. “But you can’t enforce change with that mindset, so I am going to change.” Not only is she going to vote—she’s going to get her peers to vote, too. “I am also creating a group called ‘NWI Black Youth’, and I will be encouraging voting,” Amarii said.
Numerous young people echoed the focus on the need for change and a confidence that elections can make that happen. “As young adults, having our voices heard for the future is important since we will be the people living in it,” said Maya Gonzalez, 19, from Norridge.
Malik Ethington, 18, of Chicago, agreed. “It’s very important because when the older generation is gone, we’ll be left,” he said.
For Cheenee Miranda, 20, of Gilberts, that makes voting a responsibility. “I do believe it’s more important for young people to vote because the future is in our hands,” she said. “If we don’t, then nothing will change for our benefit.”
“By younger people voting more, it gives this generation the chance to decide what is best for them,” Emmanuel Flores, 22, of Chicago added.
Some young people are even thinking about benefits to the generation that follows theirs. “The youth vote has the potential to be extremely influential in this country,” said Dominique Reid, 18, of Houston. “I think that as a young person I should vote so I can participate in potentially creating a better place for our future children.”
As for the older generation, many voiced hope that the youth vote continues to be a driving force in elections. “Having younger people more aligned to what they feel strongly about is needed,” said Tim Peterson, 54, of Evanston, owner of a popular record store and bookstore called Squeezebox. “Older candidates aren’t as in tune with what young people would want for change.”
Brad Black, 51, of Wilmette agreed. “I think it’s important [the youth vote] because youth will define our future,” he said. “And I think generations think differently and it’s good to have different perspectives.”