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John Della Volpe joins Daniella to discuss the role young voters played in the midterm elections, the issues that motivate them, and ways 2024 candidates can better connect with Generation Z and Millennials. Daniella also discusses cases the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing and Donald Trump’s comments on terminating the Constitution.

Learn more about the podcast here.

Transcript:

Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey, everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. We are hot off the heels of the Georgia runoff election. So, today we have John Della Volpe with us to discuss the role young voters played in Georgia and other key midterm races. We’ll also get into what motivates young voters and how it should inform 2024 strategy for presidential candidates. But first, we have to get to some news.

So, I warned us all in September that the upcoming Supreme Court term was going to be a rough ride. Well, now that we’re squarely in the middle of oral arguments on some of the nastiest cases, I can confirm that I was, unfortunately, correct. This week began with arguments in a case involving a website designer who doesn’t want to make websites for LGBTQ weddings. Let’s be clear about this case: Lorie Smith, the owner of 303 Creative, hasn’t launched her business or made a single wedding website yet, and no LGBTQ couples have asked her to design a wedding website. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a radical right-wing legal advocacy group, has helped Smith sue her state proactively in an attempt to curtail LGBTQI+ rights. And thanks to the Supreme Court bench being packed with MAGA extremists, they’re getting their chance.

The argument that having to design a wedding website for a fictional LGBTQ couple would constitute quote “forced speech” and violate Lorie Smith’s first amendment rights is ridiculous. And yet, it looks like the Supreme Court’s MAGA majority may rule in favor of Smith, allowing for further discrimination against LGBTQ people by businesses. Here’s Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor breaking down why exactly this is such a slippery slope.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, during oral arguments at the Supreme Court: What’s the limiting line of yours? Justice [Elena] Kagan asked you about another website designer. But how about people who don’t believe in interracial marriage? Or about people who don’t believe that disabled people should get married? Where’s the line? I choose to serve whom I want if I disagree with their personal characteristics like race or disability? I can choose not to sell to those people?

Gibbs Léger: I mean, just, wow. But that’s only one of the terrifying cases being argued this week. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Moore v. Harper, a case from North Carolina, which could give limitless authority to state governments to gerrymander maps and pass laws restricting your vote. The case hinges on a dangerous radical legal theory called the independent state legislature theory. It would allow state legislatures—and only state legislatures—to regulate federal elections and congressional map drawing, no matter what the state’s voters; their constitution; or the state courts, governors, or election officials say. The Supreme Court could rule in favor of this extremist theory, which would give power-hungry election deniers the tools to dismantle our democratic systems.

Once again, MAGA extremists are relying on the radical right-wing justices they’ve appointed to the Supreme Court to carry out their deeply unpopular policy agenda. It’s clear they’re relying on the high court to do the dirty work they can’t get through Congress.

Now for a complete 180, while the MAGA extremists on the high court are wringing their hands over narrow interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, the original father of MAGA-ism has suggested we no longer need a constitution. In a rambling Truth Social post on Saturday, Donald Trump suggested that the election fraud he claims happened in 2020 quote “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” Yeah, you heard that right. The de facto leader of the MAGA Republican Party, a former president—the party that claims to be about law and order and the Constitution, wants to rip it up and illegally reinstate himself as president. If this were happening in any other country in the world, we wouldn’t hesitate to call it what it really is: a relentless, continued coup attempt.

Remember when it took days for Republicans to condemn Trump’s dinner last week with white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Well, I’m having déjà vu because, yet again, it is taking leading MAGA extremists forever to even comment on his outrageous behavior. I’m glad it took you nearly four days, [Sen.] Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to suggest that this type of rhetoric isn’t befitting of a presidential candidate. And you know who we still haven’t heard from? [Rep.] Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the guy who wants to read the Constitution word for word on the House floor next month—that is, if he can get the votes from his MAGA buddies to become House Speaker, by the way. Is it really so hard for him and any MAGA Republican to put together a statement on how terminating the U.S. Constitution is a bad idea? This all begs the question: Is there anything Donald Trump could do that would be disqualifying in the Republican Party? And what does it say about MAGA Republicans that they’re willing to excuse literally anything and everything he does to cling to power?

If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. And please let us know what you think of the show. You can rate and review us wherever you’re streaming from, and we really appreciate your feedback. Stick around for our interview with John Della Volpe in just a beat.

John Della Volpe is director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics and the author of Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America. John traveled throughout China, Hong Kong, and Korea studying Millennials in 2008 on an Eisenhower Fellowship. He is also a founder of Social Sphere, a public opinion and analytics company, and appears regularly on programs like MSNBC’s Morning Joe and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, sharing insights on young voters.

John, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

John Della Volpe: It is great to be with you. Thank you.

Gibbs Léger: So, I want to start off by getting a general picture of how young voters showed up in the 2022 midterms. So, how did youth turnout look compared to recent midterm elections? And were there any overarching trends among young people at the polls?

Della Volpe: Sure. To put the youth vote into perspective, I think it’s important to appreciate that from the mid-1980s through 2014—in other words, when Baby Boomers, when Gen Xers, and Millennials were part of the quote-unquote “youth cohort,” the highest level of turnout that was recorded was 21 percent. Average was below 21 percent. It was somewhere between the 13 to 21 percent band. 2018, we saw the highest level of participation among young people on record as Gen Z was turning of voting age, obviously, the era of President Trump. And then also the Parkland students change this dynamic.

And the key question that a lot of us had in 2022 is, would we continue to see this level of heightened engagement in the ‘18 midterms or would it revert back to the previous few decades? And we’re not going to know, Daniella, the exact number for weeks, if not months. But all indications are that young people turned out at close to the same historic proportion that they turned out in 2018. I think the early estimates from Tufts’ CIRCLE [Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement] indicated that in the battleground states, participation was at 31 percent, and then, on average, across the entire nation it was 27 percent.

So, that’s kind of part one. The second part, though, is that not only do they vote, but their level of support for Democrats overall—and specifically in the key battleground states—in my mind was one of the most significant reasons that we have, now, an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate.

Gibbs Léger: So, let’s talk about the issues that you think motivated such a strong turnout among young voters. So, do you think the Biden administration wins, like the Inflation Reduction Act and student debt cancellation, played a role? Or was it more about the threats from MAGA extremists to our elections and abortion rights?

Della Volpe: I think it’s a complex and nuanced question, of course. But I do think that there’s certainly, kind of, this tension—maybe it’s healthy tension, actually—between what I would call the negative partisanship of the MAGA extremists that you talked about with the positive partisanship associated with the Biden administration delivering on what they said that they would do when they were talking to young voters back in 2020. What was so unique and gives me so much hope about this generation, Daniella, is back in March of this year, the first Harvard IOP poll that we conducted indicated that although young people at that time were frustrated with the pace of change in government—the president’s approval rating had declined by over 10 points year to year—despite those factors, young people were indicating that they were likely to engage at 2018 levels, despite being so frustrated with the system.

And then what we saw the Alito leak and then of course, the Dobbs decision, to me looked a lot like 2014 in terms of what happened with Parkland. There was anger, but there was also some energy and real work around registering voters and obviously persuading, mobilizing, turning folks out. So that played a significant role. But also, I think not fully appreciated, under the radar, I think, for a lot of analysts was the work that the Biden White House has been doing with young activists around relational organizing. You know, without those quote “receipts”—from the bipartisan gun legislation to the historic IRA, as you mentioned, kind of climate investments to, of course, student loan forgiveness—without those very specific things being delivered, I’m not sure that we see the outcome that we saw just a few weeks ago.

Gibbs Léger: And so, I want to talk a little bit about younger Republicans that some polling seems to suggest are closer ideologically to their Democratic peers, especially around issues around LGBTQI+ equality and even abortion. Is that something that you’re seeing? And do you think that has impacted the voting dynamics that we’ve just seen?

Della Volpe: I think so. And there are a number of issues that I think where younger Republicans, I say, have more in common with younger Democrats than they do with their older parents or grandparents or neighbors. And that’s the thing, Daniella, about this about this youth vote that is so promising, that because of the internet, because of social media, because young people are having conversations not just in their school, in their community, but with young people across the country, these values and these attitudes essentially transcend red states and blue states. So, what that means, I think, is that younger people, generally, regardless of where you’re from, are having these certainly more progressive values.

I’ve been doing this now for 22 years at Harvard. And every spring, we have a series of typology questions. And we find that every year on every question, essentially, as younger people come into the electorate, we see a subtle but steady shift to the left on a variety of issues, including among Republicans. Republicans are far more likely today than they were a handful of years ago to support stricter gun control measures. They are far more likely to be supportive of climate action. And, of course, as you mentioned earlier, their views about the members of their community who are members of the LGBTQIA community are far different than those of older generations. So, those are opportunities, I think, for elected officials to engage first on those values, to kind of create a sense of connection, which I think can, of course, lead to more detailed conversations about policy and politics.

Gibbs Léger: So, I want to talk about Georgia for a minute. Obviously, this just happened. And as you said earlier, it’s going to take a while to get a fulsome picture of what happened. But what are your big takeaways from the runoff, from [Sen.] Raphael Warnock’s (D-GA) repeated wins these past few years—four times in two years—and the impact that young voters are having in that particular state?

Della Volpe: Yeah, well, I think that the key here is to understand—and we’ll talk about Georgia in some detail in a moment—but listen, without voters who are members of this Gen Z and Millennial generation, essentially folks 18 to 41 years old, we have a different outcome. In almost every single state, certainly including Georgia, folks who are not part of those two generations support Republicans. We have a very different outcome in 2022, as well as in 2020, and the 2021 runoff. That’s, kind of, number one.

Number two, we see that among the younger cohort, the 18 to 29 year olds—we don’t have exit polls from this week’s election, but when we looked at the general election polls for November, we saw that Senator Warnock got 63 percent of that 18- to 29-year-old vote. So, not only were younger people turning out, but the degree to which they were supporting Democrats is significantly higher than it’s been in recent times. And I’ve said for many years now, for a Republican to win a contest, nationally or in states, you need to keep this 18-to-29 cohort south of 60 percent, somewhere in the mid-50s. If a Republican can do that, that opens up more opportunities. But I think we saw significant turnout and also a higher percentage of younger people supporting [Sen.] Warnock.

Now, when I look through the exit polls of 18 to 29 year olds who are white versus African American or Black, we see that that youth cohort was really driven by the turnout in the support among young Blacks in Georgia. Actually, Herschel Walker—at least the November exit polls indicated that Walker won the youth vote among whites in Georgia. I think he was in the mid-50s, actually. It wasn’t even that close, maybe 58 percent. But it was really people of color, specifically young Black men and women, who drove that youth vote, I think both in November as well as this week.

Gibbs Léger: Well, speaking of young folks, in this cycle, we not only saw young people turning out to vote, but also running for office, like [Rep.-elect] Maxwell Frost (D-FL) from Florida, the first Gen Z member of Congress—and I think the first Afro Latino,* if I’m not mistaken. What type of impact do you see young people having in our politics and in government—like actually serving?

Della Volpe: Well, I think that, obviously, Maxwell is the first, and there are other examples in the state senates and state legislatures across the country. And Maxwell, he earned this. He won by basically out-working his Democratic opponents in a very hotly contested Democratic primary and earning the respect of folks, going door to door. And I think regardless of what age this voter is, what Maxwell was able to do is to make the case that we need to have a legislative body that represents, that is representative of the broader community. And it’s not going to be a Gen Z Congress, but we’ll certainly have his voice and the voice of a generation now represented in ways that we never had before.

What I think is unique at this early stage of my work with Gen Z is the urgency that they bring to the challenges that our country is facing. And I feel like—it’s hard to quantify this—but I feel like compared to Millennials—Millennials, we saw obviously moments where they engaged and helped elect Obama through their work in Iowa back in 2008, but generally speaking, they weren’t as active as older generations, specifically Baby Boomers who were running for office. They wanted to work on it from the outside in. Whereas Gen Z is intent on using every single tool that they have available. And I think it is more likely than not that we see an increasing level of interest in actually running for office, and not just in Congress, but I think we’re seeing work in local communities, as well as in state houses. I also feel like the broader community of donors and philanthropists, etc., will also see the promise of Gen Z and begin to invest in those races as well.

Gibbs Léger: So, as much as I shudder to think of it, we are now heading into the 2024 presidential cycle. Donald Trump has already announced his intention to run, and a number of other candidates are expected to throw their hat in the ring in the coming months. So, what would be your advice for presidential hopefuls looking to tap into younger demographics as they get their campaigns off the ground?

Della Volpe: It’s a great question. The first thing I start with, Daniella, is listen more. It sounds trite. But too often, I think, political professionals in the arena, they want to go out and have those conversations about a specific element of some public policy. And what I’ve found is that those conversations are really important, and obviously, extremely helpful, but they need to come second. First is we need to understand the lives of young people, and what’s a good day in their life, what’s a bad day, what keeps them up at night. When candidates and researchers and policymakers spend the time getting to know younger people, they’ll hear that they have a very different life experience than most other Americans. And if you understand that, you can begin to develop a relationship and some mutual trust back and forth. That’s where you can go into the second stage, in my opinion, about actually having policy-related conversations. But that comes second. Unless candidates do the work to get to know younger voters, not judge them, but to understand their unique life experiences and why they carry the values and the attitudes that they have, it’s going to make the second part far more difficult.

The other thing I would add is that you need to start now. Because in order to enhance turnout among younger people, they need to understand two things. As I said, in addition to building that trust, but they also have to build trust in the system, and they need to understand that their participation in politics and in voting can make a specific difference. So that’s why it’s so important to highlight the successes that—you know, if you use Democrats as an example—that Democrats have been able to achieve. And so much of that is due to younger people turning out in 2020. So, you need to build trust in the system, as well as trust in the individual, elected official, or candidate.

Gibbs Léger: Well, that is all very good advice. I hope that they’re listening to this podcast.

Della Volpe: I’m sure they are.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, 100 percent. John, I could talk to you all day. And I would love to pick your brain about Gen X, because I’m Gen X, and I just want to know, like, what’s wrong with my generation. But we can save that for another conversation.

Della Volpe: Thank you. Let’s leave this on an optimistic note, shall we? I’m Gen X as well.

Gibbs Léger: Okay, then you understand. John, thank you so much for all the work that you do, and thanks for joining us on “The Tent.”

Della Volpe: Thank you so much.

Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. And be sure to go check out our previous episodes. Before we go, a few quick things. It is World Cup season. I guess that’s what we call it. But anyway, I love the World Cup. I love soccer—football, depending on where you live. I won’t go down this TikTok rabbit hole that I went down about how soccer was actually termed by the Brits and not Americans. But anyway, you should look it up. It’s fascinating. I love the World Cup. The games have been really exciting, really interesting. FIFA is among the most corrupt organizations in the world. The fact that it’s being held in Qatar, I have so many, so many problems. But I don’t want to take away from the beautiful game and the people who are playing it and the athletes, and it’s just been wonderful. There’s a lot of heartbreak, of course, when you lose. That’s always sad to see. But I personally am very happy that the French team is still in it as of this recording. Allez les bleus.

Okay, now we have to talk about “pilk.” “What’s that?”, you might say. It’s a thing that people are doing where they mix Pepsi and milk together. Now before you come at me and say, “But Daniella, people put, like, root beer and ice cream together to make a root beer float,” that’s totally different. Because milk—I’m going to say something controversial here—I think milk is disgusting. I think it’s a disgusting beverage. I only like it in cereal and as chocolate milk. And Pepsi is the most disgusting soda. That’s right, I said it. Pepsi’s gross. So, you’re going to take two nasty things and put them together? What is wrong with people?

And in the category of what is wrong with people, apparently, there’s a thing called making eggnog out of mayonnaise, where you replace the eggs with mayo? This is why we can’t have nice things, because people do crazy things like this. Eggnog, whether you like it or you don’t like it, was perfectly fine being made the way it was being made. Leave the eggs alone, it’s fine. Why would you add mayo, which is a beautiful condiment, by the way? I have to give a special shoutout to my friends Katie and Carmen, who hate mayo, and I’m just letting you know that you are wrong on this podcast. Mayo is wonderful. It does not need to be put in with eggnog, which I happen to find delightful as well.

Do something else. I don’t know, make a chocolate eggnog or figure out the right amount of booze to add into eggnog so that it’s not super boozy, but it’s definitely boozy enough that you feel it. You know what I mean? That is a useful use of creativity, putting mayonnaise in eggnog is an abomination. And whoever started that, along with “pilk,” you should be ashamed of yourself. And I hope you get a big lump of coal in your stocking.

So anyway, that’s what I have to say about that. I hope you all are still taking care of yourselves. As you heard last week, we’re in this tri-demic, triple-demic, whatever you want to call it. So, if you still haven’t gotten your flu shot, you still haven’t gotten your booster shot, please do so before you go and travel to see your friends and family over the holidays. Continue to take care of yourselves, and we’ll talk to you next week.

“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer, and Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

*Contributors’ note: While Rep.-elect Maxwell Frost (D-FL) is among the first Afro Latinos elected to Congress, the first was Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), who was elected in 2020.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Contributors

Daniella Gibbs Léger

Executive Vice President, Communications and Strategy

@dgibber123

Erin Phillips

Broadcast Media Manager

Kelly McCoy

Senior Director of Broadcast Communications

Sam Signorelli

Executive Associate, Communications

Explore The Series

Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.

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