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What matters to Arizona’s young voters?

ASU study finds that values may have greater significance than party lines

Young adults voting at booths next to a wall with an American flag.
November 04, 2022

According to a Harvard poll, young voters are ready to show up in big numbers for this year’s midterm elections, with the potential to surpass 2018’s increase in turnout.   

The Arizona Youth Identity Project, led by Professor Nilda Flores-Gonzalez of Arizona State University’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, aims to find out what’s driving young voters to the polls.  

Using pre-election surveys, pre- and post-election interviews and a photovoiceA research method where participants take and share photos that express their views. project to gather insights from the 2020 election period, the researchers asked a variety of U.S.-born youg adults, ages 18 to 29, about the political issues that matter to them most. They also asked participants what motivated them to vote in the 2020 elections and why they voted for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. 

“We found that more young adults are diverging from party positions, taking an undecided or ‘independent stance,” Flores-Gonzalez said.  

According to their recently released report, more than one-third of the young adults in the study identified as independents, saying they would see “both sides” or didn’t feel they quite “fit in,” but felt they had to choose a party to vote in.  

Independents were also more likely to be undecided when casting their votes: While 54.6% of independents planned to vote for Biden in 2020, 36.4% were undecided on who to vote for. In contrast, 93.8% of Democrats planned to vote for Biden in 2020, with only 5.5% undecided, while 76.2% of Republicans planned to vote for Trump and 19.2% were undecided. 

Top issues and motivations to vote 

The study also showed a difference in voting concerns between Biden, Trump and undecided voters.  

Before the election, the researchers asked participants to identify the top three issues they wanted the president or Congress to address.  

The young adults who planned to vote for Biden said combating climate change, dismantling systemic racism and lowering health care costs were the top three issues. Among planned Trump voters, the top issues were reducing unemployment and creating jobs, respecting religious freedom and combating violent crime in U.S. cities. Among undecided voters, the top issues were lowering health care costs, combating climate change and reducing unemployment and creating jobs.  

In post-election interviews, the researchers asked what motivated the participants to vote, finding strikingly different responses between Biden and Trump voters. While Biden voters overwhelmingly pointed to the need for change, Trump voters were concerned with furthering conservative values, and those who were undecided seemed more focused on social issues.  

Neither here nor there 

One of the most important findings in the study is the ambivalence young adults showed toward the two major parties,” Flores-Gonzalez said. In tune with Arizona’s increasing independent voter rolls, a sizable number of participants considered themselves independent voters who base their vote on candidates’ qualifications and how well they align with their views.  

They see themselves as straddling the middle, struggling to find representation in a two-party political structure. 

Another finding was that many of the young adults in the study expressed a dismal view of politics in general, voicing concerns about whether local and federal government leaders had their best interests in mind.  

However, participants felt that voting was the most significant way an individual could make a difference in local and national issues, and that voting is especially crucial in a battleground state like Arizona.  

“The message we got loud and clear is that neither party is tending to the interests of young adults, and our findings signal a move away from partisan affiliation as more young adults identify as independents who will vote along personal values rather than strict party lines," Flores-Gonzalez said. 

As political division intensifies, young voters pull toward political independence, and as they become critically minded political actors, they may shape a new democracy where a two-party system will likely become irrelevant.” 

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