Democrats hoped to win big in the midterms with young voters and women. Instead, they captured small majorities of each group — and won big with young women.
Exit polls show 72 percent of women ages 18-29 voted for Democrats in House races nationwide. In a pivotal Pennsylvania Senate race, 77 percent of young women voted for embattled Democrat John Fetterman, helping to secure his victory.
“I think most young women feel that the best thing for their rights and for the future of the country is to vote Democrat,” said Elizabeth Rickert, 24, an Ohioan who voted absentee from England. “As the Republican Party becomes more extreme and moves away from the core American principals of democracy and rights for all, voting Democrat is the only path forward.”
Remove young women from the equation, and neither women nor young people delivered much to the Democrats on Tuesday, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research. Fifty-three percent of women overall voted blue in House contests. Women over 45 delivered the party no advantage at all. And Democrats won a comparatively low 54 percent of votes from young men.
The gender gap among young voters in the midterms mirrors Gallup polls, which show young women trending liberal over the past two decades, while young men have remained relatively centrist.
A competing poll, AP VoteCast, shows the same gender divide among midterm voters, but in muted form. In national VoteCast surveys, 58 percent of young women reported voting Democrat, compared to 47 percent of young men. According to VoteCast data, only 49 percent of all women voted for Democrats, compared to 43 percent of men.
Since Tuesday night, Democratic leaders and loyalists have dispensed praise and pillory to demographic groups that came through for their party on election night, or didn’t.
The under-30 crowd broke strongly for Democrats, exit polls show, a result driven by women. The over-forty crowd went for Republicans. Black Americans overwhelmingly voted Democrat. Hispanic and Asian voters favored Democrats. Whites — and white women — favored Republicans. Married women skewed Republican. Unmarried women skewed Democrat.
President Biden hailed the female vote in an appearance Thursday, taking a victory lap after his party’s unexpectedly strong showing. Midterm elections often go badly for the party in power. Republicans expected to easily recapture the House and Senate. With the final votes being counted, the Senate looks split. In the House, Republicans stand to gain barely enough members to field a baseball team.
“Women in America made their voices heard, man,” Biden said. “Y’all showed up and beat the hell out of them.”
But women, as a group, conferred only a small advantage to the Democrats. Republican House candidates nationwide netted more votes from white women, older women, married women, Southern women, rural women and middle- to upper-income women, those earning between $50,000 and $100,000.
“As you look over the election results across the country, please, I beg of you, do not forget that white woman are white first,” wrote Jenn Jackson, a political scientist at Syracuse University, in a post-election Twitter post. “White men are not the only forces to struggle against. I assure you.”
Jackson also faulted Hispanic voters. Hispanic women favored Democrats at a national level, but they also helped deliver reelection to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida. In Texas, by contrast, Hispanic women broke for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. White women helped lift GOP Gov. Greg Abbott to reelection.
The liberalization of young American women is a powerful generational trend, distancing them from young men. Forty-four percent of young women called themselves liberal in 2021, compared to 25 percent of young men, according to Gallup data analyzed by the Survey Center on American Life. The gender gap was the largest recorded in 24 years of polling.
Several societal forces have pushed young women to the left. Political scientists cite the “Me Too” movement, rising LGBTQ identification and former President Trump as key factors.
Perhaps the biggest motivator Tuesday was the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, which had ensconced abortion as a constitutional right for nearly half a century.
“The decision actually dropped on my birthday. It was a weird day,” said Alexandra McCormick, 19, a sophomore at American University who lives and votes in New Jersey. On Tuesday, she voted Democrat.
“I want everyone to have their own choice on what to do with their bodies,” she said.
Among young voters of both genders surveyed in Edison exit polls, 80 percent favored legal abortions, and 49 percent named abortion as the issue that sealed their vote. Sixty-two percent of women under 45 listed abortion as their top issue.
Roughly 27 percent of voters in the 18-29 age group cast ballots in the midterms, according to researchers at Tufts University. That number doesn’t sound particularly high, but researchers say it’s the second-largest turnout among young voters for any midterm election in at least 30 years, exceeded only by the divisive Trump-era contest of 2018.
That study did not show turnout by gender. But an earlier analysis of the 2018 midterms by Tufts researchers found that young women turned out in greater numbers than young men, and that more of them voted for Democrats.
This year, 63 percent of all young voters backed Democrats in the midterms, according to Rob Farbman, research chief at Edison.
“This was the most Democratic age group by far,” he said in an interview by email.
Young adults were the only age group to support Democrats more strongly in 2022 than in 2020. In the 45-64 demographic, by contrast, support for Democratic House candidates declined from 48 percent in 2020 to 44 percent this year.
“I think people are unsettled by the Supreme Court decision,” McCormick said of young women in the electorate. “People feel that they’ve lost control of their bodily autonomy, which is a very scary thought for a lot of people.”