Gen Z Showed Up for Democracy in the 2022 Midterms

By Steph Glascock

One result from this month’s midterms is undeniably clear: Gen Z drove this election. From sustaining our record-breaking turnout in 2018 to being elected to Congress for the first time, the youngest generation of voters left our mark on democracy and demanded to be heard.

Though votes are still being counted, current numbers reveal that Gen Z showed up for democracy in record numbers. Tufts University estimates that this midterm election had the second highest youth (ages 18-29) voter turnout in almost three decades, with even higher figures in battleground states where an estimated 31 percent of youth voters cast ballots. In many of those races, Gen Z participation not only increased significantly but was a decisive factor in election results. For instance, youth turnout in Michigan experienced a 38 percent increase from 2020, the largest growth in the entire country. These young voters were instrumental in enshrining abortion rights in Michigan’s state constitution and expanding early access to voting. They were not alone: Young voters in California and Vermont also voted to amend their state constitutions to guarantee the right to abortion, and Connecticut youth helped expand early access to voting in their state. Gen Z’s dedication to reproductive freedom and voting rights helped win historic policies to protect and advance civil rights in this country.

In addition, Gen Z accomplished something we never had before: We elected one of our own to Congress. Maxwell Frost, a 25-year-old organizer, activist, and community leader, won Florida’s 10th congressional district with a campaign centered on social, racial, and economic justice. Frost’s victory, which also makes him the first Afro-Cuban member of Congress, comes at a moment when the current Congress is one of the oldest in history — the average age of members of the House is 58.4 years old, while the average age of a senator is 64.3 years old. Indeed, close to a quarter of members are over 70, making Frost’s election a significant achievement in diversifying Congress and making it more representative of the country.

Frost’s success represents just one of many firsts Gen Z made this election cycle. Nabeela Syed, who is 23 years old, became Illinois’s first South Asian woman and youngest member of the state’s general assembly. A proud American Muslim, Syed won Illinois’s 51st general assembly district with a platform centered on reproductive justice, affordable health care, and gun reform. Similarly, 26-year-old James Roesener became the first out trans man to ever be elected to a state legislature, winning New Hampshire’s 22nd state house district, ward 8. Roesener is one of the more than 1,000 LGBTQ candidates who ran for office this year, the highest number ever recorded in U.S. history.

And there are more Gen Z candidates who specifically left their mark in state legislatures. For example, 25-year-old Joe Vogel won his bid for state office, becoming one of three delegates for Maryland’s 17th House of Delegates district. A gay, Latino, and Jewish immigrant, Vogel dedicated his campaign to combatting climate change, ending gun violence, and creating accessible housing. Vogel will be joined in the Maryland House by another member of Gen Z: 26-year-old Jeffrie Long, who also focused his platform on issues central to Gen Z such as expanding education resources and affordable health care. Vogel and Long are just two of many soon-to-be Gen Z state representatives dedicated to civil rights.

This election made clear Gen Z’s determination to have a political system that works for all of us. In the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, and amid unacceptable levels of gun violence, police brutality, and attacks on LGBTQ rights, Gen Z’s midterm participation signaled that we are dedicated to addressing the most urgent civil and human rights issues of our day. Our participation in the midterms and support for civil rights issues should come as no surprise when considering that we are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation and have an extended history of activism. Our firsthand experience, particularly with gun violence, climate, and LGBTQ advocacy, has made us more politically engaged than our parents were at the same age. Gen Z’s previous advocacy and current electoral participation demonstrate a deeply held commitment to promoting civil rights.

2022 marked the first year that Gen Z could run for federal office, and the first time that many members of our generation could vote. In so many ways, we showed up for our democracy. And we’re just getting started.

Steph Glascock is a fall 2022 undergraduate intern at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.