It's time to break the news.The Messenger's slogan

Young people are more anxious about politics than ever. Is that why they’re turning out to vote in 2022?

Despite barriers and fueled by stress, the youngest voting bloc is casting ballots more than ever.

Young voters aren’t apathetic — they’re anxious.

Stress over where, how and for whom to vote — and wondering if their vote even matters — plays an overwhelming role in young peoples’ electoral participation.

But these stressors are shifting how young people are navigating electoral politics, participating despite their trepidations. Young advocates and organizations around the country are helping their peers overcome these voting anxieties, while simultaneously working to remove their root causes.

Young people are voting — and they are not a monolith

There are two narratives attached to the youngest voting bloc that aren’t accurate, many experts say.

Stress and anxiety are driving young people to ballot boxes

Since 2016, the uptick in young voters closely following elections and becoming engaged in electoral politics can be attributed almost completely to the stress and anxiety they feel over their futures and freedoms, experts say. The role of politics and polarization during the pandemic, nationwide reckonings on racism and policing, the climate crisis and recent abortion bans have all affirmed — directly and in short order — how government decisions affect individual lives.

“We are trying to attempt to fix something, and not everyone believes they’re going to see that change in their lifetime. It’s sad, but it’s the track record of what we’ve experienced,” added Temi Akande, also a Chicago Votes fellow.

Candidates are ignoring young voters, who are ignoring them back

Oftentimes, because of the notion that young voters are apathetic, candidates ignore young people in their campaigns and messaging — such as not showing up to round tables or responding to invites to speak, which has been Avalos’ experience in Wisconsin, where the youth vote is projected to be the fifth most influential of Senate races across the country and the most influential of America’s gubernatorial elections.

These sentiments contribute to a feedback loop — the overwhelming feeling among young voters that specific candidates rarely represent them, said Alberto Medina, the communications team lead at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

“If you aren’t touching on issues that actually affect us, then what are we voting for? That’s what I hear my younger sisters say,” Enuenwosu said.

Participating in protests and activism can feel more rewarding and inclusive — even those who aren’t old enough or able to vote can still engage with pressing issues. And at the top of young voters’ minds this November: abortion rights, environmental concerns and issues centered on policing and crime.

Anxiety over process and place

A lack of attention on civics and voting education leaves many young people intimidated in the voting booth, said Katrina Phidd, communications and digital strategy manager at Chicago Votes. In her work, she finds that high schoolers often don’t know they can bring their phones, voting guides or other materials to help fill out ballots.

A lack of representation at the polls

There is also the matter of representation — who is and isn’t at polling places. Eighty-seven percent of young voters say they don’t see other young people working at the polls; 74 percent say they don’t see poll workers who look like them; 15 percent said poll workers “don’t understand or care about” people like them.

In some cases, both Phidd and Bennett-Scott said police presence outside polling places can dissuade young voters — especially Black and brown voters — from wanting to go inside. “Polling locations not being seen as welcoming places where young people can feel confident in their voting could certainly be a source of voting anxiety,” Medina said.

Working to reduce voting anxiety

One of the most effective ways to quell anxieties about voting, experts say, is to make accessible voting plans. Peer-to-peer support and communication, Medina said, resonates with young people and makes them feel heard. “We have to engage young people as stakeholders and leaders in democracy,” he said. “And that’s going to look totally different for different types of youth. That’s big — not treating youth as a monolith.”

Creating social media campaigns and digital voting guides that tap into pop culture without reducing young people to only trends and fads, Phidd said, are great ways to inform.

Another crucial step is to prepare young voters by educating them on civic processes, year-round. It’s often the offseasons and nonpresidential election years, Avalos said, that some of the most important learning takes place — focusing more on lesser-known parts of government, and local bills and ordinances being proposed and voted on.

“This generation of young folks has a set of values and principles that drive the way that they interact with the world,” Bennett-Scott said. Despite anxieties, and physical and invisible barriers to participating in electoral politics, “young voters really want this to work.”

Using their voices, despite disillusionment

And yet, even if it feels as though the odds are stacked against them, young people continue to recognize the importance of voting.

“Cynicism doesn’t necessarily lead young voters to disengage,” Medina said. “The more that young people say that they are cynical, the more likely they are actually to vote. Just because they’re disillusioned with the politicians, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily disillusioned about their own power.”

Start your day with the biggest stories and exclusive reporting from The Messenger Morning, our weekday newsletter.
By signing up, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use.
Sign Up.