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Young and new voters surge in early voting
Hundreds of thousands of new voters are showing up to cast their ballots early in the weeks before the midterm elections, fueling Democratic hopes that a younger electorate may help them over the finish line in key states.
The number of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 who have cast ballots early has surpassed turnout levels from the last midterm election in just about every state, according to several sources tracking early vote totals.
In some states, especially those with hot races, the increase in turnout is staggering. In Texas, 332,000 voters under the age of 30 have cast ballots already, up nearly fivefold from the 2014 midterms. In Nevada, the 25,000 young voters who have cast a ballot is also five times higher than in the same period four years ago.
Georgia's young voter turnout is four times higher than it was in 2014. In Arizona, three times as many younger voters are turning up.
"Voters under the age of 30, relative to their '14 turnout, are outperforming every other group," said Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist whose firm TargetSmart tracks the early vote. "It's not just like a presidential year surge where you're getting younger voters who only vote in presidentials coming out in a midterm. A lot of these young people are voting in their first election period."
More than three-quarters of a million voters have cast ballots for the first time, TargetSmart's analysis found. A third of that total comes in Texas alone, where 213,000 first-time voters have already cast ballots.
Still, while younger voters are heading to the polls in record numbers, they continue to make up a disproportionately small percentage of the electorate. Because so few younger voters showed up in 2014, new records are easier to set.
"The youth vote is higher than 2014 so far, but so few young people have voted at this point it is not hard to double the numbers," said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who tracks early voting totals. "Young people tend to vote in larger numbers during the week prior to the election, and we're seeing some evidence that young people are indeed starting to turn out."
Consider Georgia, where 114,866 voters between the ages of 18 and 29 had already cast a ballot. That represents nearly 21 percent of all 18-29 year olds who are registered to vote in the state, a 369 percent increase over the same period in 2014.
But those voters represent just 8 percent of the overall electorate that has voted so far. Seniors, those over the age of 65, represent more than a third of the electorate; among the oldest voters, 473,000 have showed up to vote already, a 78 percent increase over 2014 levels.
"Age will continue to be a pretty darn good predictor of turnout," Bonier said. "What these signs are pointing to is that the gap [between older and younger voters] is going to be significantly reduced."
Young voters are disproportionately likely to sit out election days. Just 4 in 10 voters between 18 and 29 said they would vote this year, according to a poll conducted for the Harvard Institute of Politics.
But those youngest voters are also the most likely to favor Democrats. The Harvard poll found younger voters favored Democrats over Republicans in the battle for Congress by a 66 percent to 32 percent margin.
So far this year, nearly 24 million people have cast ballots early, according to statistics McDonald maintains. Already, 17 states - including hot spots like Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin - have surpassed the number of early votes cast in the entirety of the 2014 election.