Arizona’s young voters, ages 18 to 29, may have been the state’s most engaged youth electorate group ever, driven in 2022 by concerns about the cost of living and reproductive rights.
That was the finding of a study by the McCain Institute, which found that Generation Z and younger millennial voters surpassed expectations and previous voting records in the state’s midterm elections last year. The level of involvement held true for young voters regardless of party, the report’s authors said at a panel discussion Wednesday.
John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics who assisted the McCain Institute in its research, said the results and attitudes of younger Arizona voters are encouraging.
“What we captured in this last survey was, I would argue, a very engaged, if not the most engaged, youth electorate, in many, many years, certainly, in many, many generations,” Della Volpe said.
The study found that 51% of those voters spent time researching a candidate or issue before casting a ballot and that they tend to be more politically active online than in person: 36% have shared or posted political content on social media where 24% have attended a political event. Researchers are calling it an “era of activism.”
“They voted at roughly twice the level of their older or millennial brothers and sisters and their Gen X parents, and their baby boomer and Silent Generation grandparents,” Della Volpe said.
The study consisted of more than 1,500 interviews conducted in late November in English or Spanish.
It found that friends and family often motivated people to vote. Of those who said they did not vote in the midterms, 36% wished they had. Poor candidate choices, lack of available information, and intimidation at the polls were among the reasons young adults in Arizona did not vote, the study said.
Registered Republicans were reportedly driven to the polls because of inflation, while Democrats were motivated by women’s reproductive rights, the study found. But the cost of living was the biggest concern for younger Arizona voters, regardless of party affiliation, with nearly 80% listing cost of living – and specifically housing – as their largest concern.
“That extends not just to inflation, the cost of groceries, but I think that extends to the affordability of housing, the affordability of health care, the affordability of just trying to live your best life in even a relatively modest way,” Della Volpe said. “We find that two-thirds or three-quarters of young Arizonans say those issues are of primary importance.”
The cost of living was closely followed by health care, protecting individual rights, mental health, education, reproductive rights, and the economy.
Diane Brown, the executive director of Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said that candidates who spend more time emphasizing what younger voters care about come out on top.
“Over the last couple of decades, increasingly, candidates that reach out to young adults on issues they care about, whether that be employment, housing, environment, and health care, tend to top the list of interest for those voters,” said Brown, who was not part of Wednesday’s panel.
Brown said work done by her organization aims to promote nonpartisan resources and educate young voters on how participation on a local level matters.
“While it may seem a bit overwhelming to think your one vote can make a difference when it comes to the electoral system and electing the president, local elections have often been determined by a handful … to a few hundred votes,” she said.
Avery Xola, the voter education manager at Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said that while younger voters are turning out, they may face a lot of anxiety doing so given the bitter partisan divides in the state, and nation.
“Regardless of demographics, for young adults, I think one thing that they all share … is they all have a certain uneasiness about their future. They all have a certain sense of anxiety when it comes to voting,” Xola said.
Della Volpe agrees. He worries that heightened levels of partisanship and political divisiveness might be hindering younger adult participation. But he also thinks that anxiety may be what’s pushing a lot of people to the polls.
“I think the thing that really, to me, differentiates this generation of young people is the urgency that they take into these endeavors,” he said.
The study found that Arizona mirrored national trends in 2022 and 2018 when younger voters turned out in major ways. Della Volpe said he hopes that younger voters realize Arizona – and the country – would be a very different place today without their participation.
“Broadly speaking, attitudes around politics and civic engagement and frankly, culture for the most part, kind of transcend state barriers these days,” he said.