Brigid Bergin: I'm Brigid Bergin in for Melissa Harris-Perry. Voters between the ages of 18 to 29 showed up to the polls in near-record numbers this year. Tufts University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that turnout among young voters is likely the second highest for a midterm election in the past 30 years. Second only to the 2018 midterm. 12% of all votes cast were by voters 18 to 29 years old. Here to talk with us about what it takes to sustain this wave of youth votes across the country is Jack Lobel, spokesperson for Voters of Tomorrow. Jack, thanks so much for being with us today.
Jack Lobel: Thank you for having me.
Brigid Bergin: Can you start by telling us a bit about Voters of Tomorrow? What is it and how did it start?
Jack Lobel: Yes. Voters of Tomorrow is a pretty unique group because we're not only Gen-Z-focused, but we're Gen-Z-led. We know how to connect with Gen-Z voters because we are Gen-Z voters. We share the perspectives and the unique experiences of Generation Z, and that's why I think it allows us to connect with young people. We were founded in 2019 by Santiago Mayer, who's an immigrant from Mexico, and he's currently our executive director. He saw at his high school that people really were not harnessing that youth political power that we know we have. Ever since then, we've been working in government and in politics to harness that power and to make our voices heard.
Brigid Bergin: In terms of the 2022 midterms, data from Tufts University found 27% of young voters turned out in this election. What would you say were some of the factors that motivated Gen-Z voters to get to the polls this year?
Jack Lobel: I think this year, Gen-Z turned out both out of fear and out of optimism, fear because we see a lot of our rights being taken away right before our eyes. We are under attack by the far right. A lot of the issues they're pushing disproportionately impact young people. I'm talking about rollbacks on environmental regulations that keep us safe, and rollbacks on restrictions on guns that keep weapons of war out of our schools. Our futures are under assault.
That's why we showed up again to deal a significant blow to the far right. We also showed up out of hope because we are hopeful in our ability to build a better future. We are hopeful that we are harnessing our power unlike any generation of young people before us. We are showing up in historic numbers for the third consecutive cycle. We made a significant difference in the midterms, and we are hopeful that we're going to keep doing that when there are millions more of us eligible to vote in 2024.
Brigid Bergin: Certainly, political engagement is about more than just voting. It's about organizing. I'm wondering what kind of organizing work does voters of tomorrow do with Gen-Z voters, and how are you reaching young people in your work.
Jack Lobel: The problem isn't just that young people have, historically, not voted in numbers like other age groups, it's also that politicians have never listened to our voices, and that makes it very difficult for them to ask for our voices at the ballot box. We see that politicians, for years, have put the second amendment over second graders. We've seen that they've put access to contributions and power over our futures.
Gen-Z is looking for politicians who listen to our voices, who take our futures into account, and who bring us to the table. In terms of what we're doing, though, to inspire young people to vote, we're taking a very locally driven, multifaceted on-the-ground approach, an approach that's by Gen-Z because we understand the issues of young people unlike any other generation, we understand the importance that our voices can have in elections.
Brigid Bergin: Does that mean a lot of the voter engagement efforts are actually being done online through social media sites like TikTok and Instagram? I think there's just this perception of Gen-Z as the most online generation. I'm wondering to what extent do you think that that has advantages and then what potentially are some of the drawbacks of that kind of work?
Jack Lobel: We do see that digital can be very, very effective in reaching young voters. We are the most online generation, but it's a problem when the extent to which campaigns do their Gen-Z voter outreach only extends to digital. Young people are also on the ground, they're on college campuses. It's important that like Voters of Tomorrow does campaigns take a multifaceted approach to reaching young voters. Voters of Tomorrow sent over 6 million text messages to young voters in the weeks leading up to the election. We deployed hundreds if not thousands of volunteers to call young voters across the country in key districts where it really mattered.
We did have a large digital reach because, again, that's another effective way of reaching Gen-Z. We understand how much we have to invest in the youth vote because look what we did with only 27% youth voter turnout. Imagine if we really invest in the youth vote. Imagine what we can do in CIRCLEs in the future if we pour resources into sustained outreach, this upward trend, but we need more resources, Gen-Z-led groups like Voters of Tomorrow, we can't do it alone. It seems like sometimes we're the only people who are focused on youth voter outreach, but that cannot be the case. Campaigns have to work with these Gen-Z-led groups to get this done.
Brigid Bergin: Let's think beyond the midterms. What kind of work is Voters of Tomorrow doing to sustain the number of young voters we saw in this election going forward?
Jack Lobel: We're going to keep engaging young people and we're going to keep making sure that they know the power that they have in government. We are establishing chapters on the ground and now we have a presence in 50 states plus Washington DC. It's the local organizing, making sure young people, locally, know the power that they have. That's what's going to keep this engagement going. A lot of the attacks that we see on young people come from the local level. Although Voters of Tomorrow is a national organization, change starts with young people, but it starts locally and that's really where we're focused. I think that's one of the powers that we hold.
Also, it's about holding the elected officials who we've now elected accountable. They can't just ignore us like they've done for so long. We're going to hold them to their promises that they've made on the campaign trail to young voters. It looks like President Biden is delivering on a lot of those promises. He has a lot to show for his work on behalf of young people, and we expect that he's going to be continuing to fight for us. Now it's just about getting the word out about the good work that he and his coalition are doing and also making sure that we're included in his coalition. That's something that Voters of Tomorrow is going to be engaging with over the next two years.
Brigid Bergin: Jack, from your view, what are people getting wrong about sustaining the youth vote?
Jack Lobel: I think the thing that people get wrong is that the youth vote is only something that you can do outreach to in the two weeks leading up to the election. This has to be sustained and it has to not only be online but, on the ground, and taking our voices into account where it really matters, which is at the legislative table.
Brigid Bergin: Jack Lobel, spokesperson for Voters of Tomorrow. Jack, thanks so much for joining us.
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