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Gen Z turnout may have stopped a ‘red wave.’ Young voters say they were underestimated.

“I don’t think older generations realize how fundamentally angry we are.”

Democratic candidate for Florida's 10th Congressional District Maxwell Frost, 25, speaks as he celebrates with supporters during a victory party at The Abbey in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
Democratic candidate for Florida's 10th Congressional District Maxwell Frost, 25, speaks as he celebrates with supporters during a victory party at The Abbey in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.Read moreStephen M. Dowell / AP

Democrats are thanking Gen Zers for showing up and showing out at the polls.

Numbers are still coming in, but early exit polls show that a surge in young people voting in the midterm election may have boosted overall turnout and contributed to some better-than-expected results for Democrats.

Estimates say that about 27% of people ages 18 to 29 — Zoomers and those on the Gen Z-Millennial cusp — cast ballots this November, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts.

In midterm general elections dating back to the 1990s, turnout among the same age group has hovered around 20%.

“I don’t think older generations realize how fundamentally angry we are,” said Maddie Billet, 20, a sophomore at George Washington University and Bucks County native who voted Democratic. “We’re angry with policies and practices that have set up our lives to be a struggle from day one. We were born into a world where the environment is crumbling, democracy is dying, bigotry is becoming the norm, and we’re angry about it.”

No official sources of demographic voter data are immediately available after elections. CIRCLE bases its numbers on exit polls. Figures like Harvard University’s Cooperative Election Study, Pew surveys, and Census Bureau voting data will only drop in the coming months.

At a press conference Wednesday, President Joe Biden thanked young people for showing up to the polls in “historic numbers.” CIRCLE said its estimates place young voter turnout at its second-highest since the 1990s, below only 2018′s 31%.

And for most Gen Z voters, CIRCLE estimates indicate, their ballots went blue.

Experts say that young people’s tenacity may have been the difference between Republicans’ promised “red wave” and the actual midterm results, which saw Democrats losing fewer U.S. House seats than expected and even flipping Pennsylvania’s Senate seat blue.

CIRCLE reported that young people overwhelmingly backed Democrats for U.S. House and Senate races. Gen Z’s support of Democratic candidates including incumbent Govs. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Tony Evers in Wisconsin, and Sen.-elect John Fetterman over Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania proved to be critical, the data shows.

“They [older generations] think we are turned off by politics. In reality, we are just done with the way our government is being run.”

Kaleb Purswell, 19

In Pennsylvania, Gen Zers and younger Millennials backed Fetterman over Oz, 70% to 28%, CIRCLE reported.

Billet was one of Fetterman’s supporters.

“My representative and Senate races were most important to me,” she said. “My representative has been Brian Fitzpatrick for what feels like forever,” she said. Fitzpatrick, a Republican who won reelection this year, was first elected to Congress in 2017, when Billet was 15. “I really wanted his seat to flip blue. I also really enjoy everything John Fetterman stands for and he’s the embodiment of an average Pennsylvanian.”

Billet said key topics that drove her to the polls included preserving abortion access, legalizing marijuana, voter rights, and raising the minimum wage.

She and other local Gen Zers believe older generations continue to underestimate their age bracket’s power and interest in politics.

Kaleb Purswell is 19 and attends Slippery Rock University. He said key issues that inspired him to vote for the first time included LGBTQ rights and women’s rights.

“They [older generations] think we are turned off by politics,” he said. “In reality, we are just done with the way our government is being run.”

For young people like Sophia Shapiro, it’s personal.

Shapiro is Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro’s college-age daughter. She founded and runs Students for Shapiro, a student-led group that rallied local high school and college students around the gubernatorial candidate.

She says the group has over 50 school chapters and nearly 1,000 members.

The group met young people where they were, mobilizing on social media — including platforms most popular among Gen Z like Instagram, TikTok, and BeReal — to connect with their base.

In the group’s TikToks, Josh Shapiro aims to connect with younger audiences, participating in trends like OOTD (outfit of the day) highlights — where he talks about his off-the-rack blue suit and custom VOTE SHAPIRO Air Force 1′s — and participating in rounds of “Slay or Nay” with his teenage nieces.

A recent poll by Campus Vote Project showed that college students’ top source for information was social media. Candidates like Fetterman were active on TikTok throughout the election cycle and on the campaign trail.

But, younger people aren’t just voting — they’re also running.

Maxwell Alejandro Frost is the first member of Gen Z elected into Congress. The 25-year-old Democrat will represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

» READ MORE: Election night full of firsts for Black, LGBTQ+ and youth representation

Olivia Juliana, director of politics and government affairs for the youth-led nonprofit group Gen Z for Change, said Frost’s election and rising youth voter turnout means Gen Z now has “a seat at the table.”

For months, groups like Voters of Tomorrow — a voter engagement and education organization run by Gen Z-aged leaders — have been rallying young people to get engaged and hosting text banks and an online voting hub.

On a local level, groups like PA Youth Vote have been working to elevate student voices and encourage young people to get to the polls.

Thomas Quinn with PA Youth Vote said the group has spent the last few years working with teachers, students, and other groups to teach them about the voting process.

» READ MORE: The teen vote is powerful. Here’s how to harness it in Pennsylvania. | Opinion

“Young people need fair resources and real conversations to judge the candidates, and not just negative TV ads,” Quinn said, pointing to a statewide PA Youth Vote Mock Election that let students interview local candidates.

Quinn said youth took notice of which candidates engaged with them.

“Kids are smart, and they can see through the glittering generalities,” he said. “They respond to candidates that take them seriously.”

» READ MORE: The day young voters lined up to keep the American republic for 2 more years

Lydia McFarlane, 20, a junior at Villanova University, said she and her peers helped students register to vote, organized shuttle services to take students to the polls, and passed out “I Voted” stickers and buttons.

“I definitely do think the impact of the youth vote was underestimated,” she said. “The college students [at my school] were very passionate about this election and went out to the polls in droves for the issues that were important to them.”

The day after the midterms, “Gen Z” was trending on Twitter.

“For too long we’ve been cast aside in the political process,” said Victor Shi, a youth voting advocate. “We’ve been ignored. Our rights and identities have been attacked. But despite all this and more, young people shocked the nation by breaking turnout records and preventing a red wave.”