Social Studies

How Gen Z Voters Might Shape the Midterm Elections as Education Issues Heat Up

By Lauraine Langreo — October 26, 2022 2 min read
A bin of "I Voted Today" stickers rests on a table at a polling place, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Stratham, N.H.
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With midterm elections less than two weeks away, many of the nation’s youngest voters are gearing up to vote for the first time as education continues to be a hot-button issue in some political campaigns.

In fact, 85 percent of Gen Z voters—the group of people born after 1996—said they plan to vote in the midterms, according to a National Society of High School Scholars survey that polled about 2,300 U.S. high school students and graduates between Aug. 30 and Sept. 11.

Only time will tell if Gen Z voters will actually head to the polls this November. Midterm elections historically generate lower voter turnout than presidential elections, and a September analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that voter registration among 18- and 19-year-olds is down compared with November 2018.

But James Lewis, the president of the National Society of High School Scholars, believes this election season could be different.

“One of the most important results that we saw from this survey is that our young people have reached a point where they want their voice heard, and they are going out to the polls to do so,” he said in an email to Education Week. “Historically, this hasn’t been the case, specifically with the midterm elections, but clearly issues like Racial Equity, LGBTQ+ rights, and Climate Change are just a few examples of what is galvanizing them.”

The top issues students are concerned about are racial equity, the environment, inflation and the economy, and women’s reproductive rights, according to the survey. The importance of these issues varied by gender: for young women the top issue was racial equity, for young men it was inflation, and for nonbinary respondents it was LGBTQ rights. The second most important issue for all three groups was the environment, the survey found.

This comes at a time when critical race theory, educational equity, LGBTQ rights, and bans on books and other curriculum materials have taken center stage in some political campaigns as the midterm elections approach.

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Illustration of a large crack splitting the ground into blue and red divided sides
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Eight-six percent of NSHSS survey respondents said that the midterm elections would have an impact on their lives, and 43 percent said the upcoming vote will affect them as much as the outcomes of the next presidential election.

Those who said they didn’t plan to vote were either not registered to vote (27 percent) or didn’t know the candidates well enough (14 percent), the NSHSS survey found. Most states allow or require high schools to provide voter registration forms or do outreach to students, but not all districts comply with these policies.

Here are other survey findings:

  • When asked how Gen Z respondents want to have an impact on the world, “human rights” was the most popular response at 67 percent, followed by education (59 percent), environment (54 percent), social justice (52 percent), health care (51 percent), and poverty (50 percent).
  • The most important trait in a political candidate, according to Gen Z voters, is integrity, which was the top choice for 73 percent of respondents. Relatability, likeability, and being a great public speaker trailed far behind.
  • More than a third of Gen Z respondents also said they intend to seek public office, with 14 percent saying they would at the federal level and 12 percent would seek a local seat.
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