Last weekend, Dr. Michael Bitzer wrote about the changing demographics in our campaigns and how they might affect the future of elections in North Carolina. Specifically, younger voters are showing up at much higher rates than they have in the past. The youngest generation of voters seems to be more politicized than in the past and the millennial generation saw the greatest gain in 2018. If the last election is the beginning of a trend, voting patterns might alter elections fairly dramatically as soon as 2020.
Millennial voters turned out at a rate of less than 20% in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, but, in 2018, 33% of them voted. The youngest voters, what Bitzer describes as Generation Z showed up at 31%. Combined they make up almost a third of the registered voters in the state and since more of Gen Z will reach voting age before 2020, they could be a major force in the electorate next year.
That more than 30% of Gen Z voted in a midterm is the biggest surprise. Voters the same age in previous years were showing up at about half that rate. The 2020 election will be their first presidential election. If more than 50% of them show up, their impact on the electorate could be significant. To put it in perspective, millennials who would have been between 18 and 27 years in 2008 voted at a rate of 44% and were credited, in part, for electing Obama.
Campaigns seem to be paying attention, too. Joe Biden launched his campaign and then spent almost $500,000 in the first week on Facebook ads. They know they can’t reach millennials and Gen Z on television or in the mail. They’ll need to get them on their screens. 2020 could be the year that we see campaigns dramatically restructure their communications programs.
The rise in younger voters is good for Democrats. While a plurality of millennials and Gen Z registered unaffiliated in North Carolina, solid majorities of them vote for Democrats in the elections. The greatest or silent generation will shrink as a percentage of the electorate as older voters die. Gen Z will fill the void. If they stay politicized, they may shift the political trajectory of the country sooner than later.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >