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Candidates court elusive youth vote as US midterms loom

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US Democrats are trying to woo young people back to polling booths, fearful that turnout among the youth vote may be down on 2020./AFP
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Oct 25, 2022 - 10:12 AM

ATLANTA, UNITED STATES — Riven by angst over a warming planet, fearful for democracy and facing a financially uncertain future, young people tend to be among the most politically engaged groups in the United States.

Except when it comes to actually voting.

“Do you know the end date of when I have to vote?” asks Will Schuler, 22, a student at Atlanta’s Emory University, realizing he hasn’t got his act together yet, with just days to go cast his ballot.

Young voters have always been an unpredictable constituency but in Georgia, one of the most closely-watched states in November’s midterm elections, people of Will’s generation helped power the Democrats to victory in 2020.

In the home stretch of this campaign, the party of President Joe Biden is trying to woo them back to polling booths.

Schuler registered to vote at his college campus. But the tall, dark-haired chemistry student, by his own admission, is not the most passionate about politics.

“A lot of the time college students are just trying to enjoy their day, have a good time, study,” he told AFP, adding he is thinking about voting Democratic on November 8.

Youth power 

In Georgia, two extremely close duels, fueled by tens of millions of dollars, are captivating America.

Democrat Raphael Warnock, the first Black US senator elected in the southern state with a long history of segregation, is seeking re-election against Herschel Walker, a former US football star backed by Donald Trump.

The contest could well decide which party gets control of the US Senate — and the ability to advance or frustrate Biden’s agenda.

There is also a fierce battle for the governor’s office, where Republican Brian Kemp is up against an influential Democratic figure, Stacey Abrams.

“Part of the reason why I chose to come to Emory was because I knew that Georgia was such an important state in elections in the United States,” said Rob Golin, 18.

In recent weeks, several Democratic candidates have made the university a campaign stop.

“Georgia is ranked as the number one Senate race where young people could have the biggest impact,” said Ruby Belle Booth, a pollster at Tufts University.

In the polls, the issues Republicans campaign on — inflation and crime — resonate more deeply with the general electorate than Democratic preoccupations such as abortion rights and protecting democracy.

“Because young Georgians prefer Democratic candidates by so much, they end up — if they turn out in big numbers — really impacting the election,” Booth told AFP, adding that the effect was most acute among Black youth.

Less optimistic 

In the last midterm elections in 2018, two-thirds of Georgia’s young registered voters ended up not casting their ballot.

“Young people in 2020 were definitely motivated by the fear of another Trump presidency,” Sona Davis, 20, an anthropology and human biology major told AFP.

She is less optimistic about turnout this time around, however.

“I don’t think it will be to the level of 2020… but you never know,” she said.

Convincing young people to make the trip to the polling booth is the central preoccupation of HeadCount, a non-partisan NGO that runs booths at concerts and festivals.

“We really want them to know that they have so much sway and can really change the results of these elections,” said volunteer Heidi Barrows, setting up a table at a performance by folk singer Noah Cyrus at a venue in northern Atlanta.

Kelsey Roth, a 25-year-old nurse, bashfully approaches the booth, which is decked out colorful stickers and banners to confirm she will be able to vote in November.

She pledges to do her bit in the name of protecting same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

“We need to have as many Democrats as possible,” she said.

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