How young voters helped Biden to his Keystone State win | Analysis

(Photo courtesy NextGen America)

President-elect Joe Biden’s success in Pennsylvania was incumbent upon several key things including a group of voters not known for always showing up at the polls in large numbers, according to the New York Times.

Youth voters were a key voting bloc that helped Biden lock down the Keystone State, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College.

“When we look at the turnout overall, it appears to be very strong in the 2020 election, and certainly nationally, well above 2016, and Pennsylvania is an example of one of the places in which young people, we believe, had a clear impact on results,” Abby Kiesa, deputy director of CIRCLE, said.

CIRCLE analyzed data from The Associated Press’ AP Votecast survey and National Election Pool’s exit poll and concluded that Biden benefited greatly from the voting bloc’s support.

“Young voters increased their turnout in 2020; they made the difference in key battleground states; and the participation and overwhelming support for President-elect Joe Biden from youth of color was one of the defining elements of the election,” according to CIRCLE’s analysis.

Young voters are described as voters aged 18 to 29.

MAPS: The counties that pushed Biden to the presidency in Pa.

CIRCLE’s analysis shows that, in Pennsylvania, 58 percent of young voters selected Biden while 39 percent  selected Donald Trump which resulted in a roughly 155,000 vote margin between the two candidates.

It’s important to note that the youth voting bloc is not a monolith.

“What we’ve seen in previous elections is that there can be pretty significant differences in candidate support among young people by race and ethnicity,” Kiesa said. 

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In fact, CIRCLE’s analysis takes their conclusion on the effect of young voters another step forward.

“While young voters overall were vital to Joe Biden’s electoral victory, young people of color played an especially critical role,” CIRCLE’s analysis says. “While white youth voted for Biden by a slim margin (51 percent to 45 percent), youth of color gave him overwhelming support.”

In Pennsylvania, this trend is particularly evident.

Eighty-five percent “of young voters of color backed Biden in Pennsylvania (33 points higher than white youth),” CIRCLE’s summary says.

Overall, this youth voter surge did not happen overnight. According to CIRCLE’s 2018 analysis, Pennsylvania’s youth turned out 18 points higher during the 2018 midterm elections than they did during 2014. This increase in youth turnout was higher than the increase in turnout from all groups.

In fact, it is the culmination of years of grassroots organizing from groups like NextGen America, a progressive organizing group and political action committee that has been active on the ground in Pennsylvania since 2016.

“From Erie to Northampton County to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, we had folks who were digitally organizing campuses and just knew how important it would be to power up those youth numbers and make sure that we were able to deliver those 20 electoral votes to Joe Biden,” Sarah Eagan, Pennsylvania press secretary for NextGen America, said.

With more than 2,000 volunteers on the ground and 42 campuses with programs, NextGen Pennsylvania was able to register more than 23,000 young voters and engage with almost 950,000 voters through digital ads, according to a NextGen Pennsylvania press release.

“In this difficult and unpredictable year, young voters were steadfast in their mission: remove Trump and his allies first, reverse the damage they caused next. Gen Z and Millennials are the future of this country. Trust us: this is a coalition that won’t quit. And, bottom line, you just don’t mess with Philly,” Larissa Sweitzer, state director of NextGen Pennsylvania, said in a statement. 

Despite the obstacles presented by COVID-19, the organization was able to continue reaching out to young voters.

“We knew that it was going to be challenging, but our folks were really well equipped to switch over [to digital outreach]. Because young voters are living online anyways, it was a really natural transition,” Eagan said. “Clearly digital organizing works.”

In the five days leading up to Nov. 3, NextGen Pennsylvania made more than 500,000 calls and texts to young voters with one of the main topics being that youth knew how to follow all of the steps in the vote by mail process.

“We’re seeing really low rates of naked ballots which was a huge worry. I think that’s largely due to NextGen’s work to educate young voters about using their secrecy envelopes and making sure that they turn their ballots,” Eagen said.

With the youth vote proving to be a key for future Democratic success in the state, Eagen said that there are important lessons to learn from Biden’s victory.

“It’s going to change the game in terms of whose concerns we are listening to and who is going to have a seat at the table and that’s going to have to be young people,” Eagen said. “I think as we move forward, young voters really do have the keys to make a difference in our democracy and in empowering to make sure that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are kept to their word,” on delivering on issues that matter to young voters like climate change and student debt.

Kenny Cooper is a Hearken Election SOS Fellow helping the Capital-Star cover the 2020 election and its aftermath. Follow him on Twitter @Kenny_Cooper_Jr.