Whether they are marching against gun violence, advocating stronger action against climate change or pushing for or against abortion rights, young Americans of all political stripes have been engaged in some of the prominent social movements of the 21st century.
Electorally, however, they have often struggled to make their voices heard, despite turning out in increasing numbers in 2018 and 2020.
A New York Times/Siena College poll found that likely voters younger than 30 planned to support a Democrat for Congress by a 12-point margin in next month’s elections, compared with a narrow advantage for Republicans among likely voters at large. But, compared with older generations, they were less likely to say they would vote at all.
Twelve voters in their 20s, living in states with competitive Senate or governor’s races, spoke with photographers for The New York Times about the issues they considered most important. Though President Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan had been in the news, none said it was a top issue. Instead, they discussed their views on abortion, climate, the economy and immigration — or a search for, as one 24-year-old Wisconsin woman put it, “what’s best for the collective versus the singular.” — Maggie Astor
Seeking ‘the Least Worst Options’
Jayda Priester, 25, lives in Atlanta and sells life insurance. She said she had no political affiliation and had not decided whom she wanted for governor.
“There is no one who made me feel I have to vote for them yet. I am looking at the least worst options.”
“The most important issue for me is defunding the police. I am hugely for defunding the police and putting other resources available for crisis management, de-escalation.”
Fixing Tractors, Worried About Fuel
Kyle Moore, 28, lives in Poynette. He is a tractor technician who identifies as a Republican and who wants “to see the fuel prices go back down” to ease the strain on farmers and ranchers.
“I feel like the 20s generation does not express or voice their opinion as strongly as they should, like the older generations. They hold back more and don’t come out and voice or vote clearly enough to see the country succeeding.”
The State of the 2022 Midterm Elections
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.
A Nurse With Dreams of Health Care Equity
Kadie Mercier, 29, of Philadelphia is a registered nurse in the emergency department of a hospital in her city. She is a registered Democrat.
“As an emergency-department nurse, we see people come in all the time that are in very poor health because they’re unable to afford their medications or find a primary care provider. And so it’s something that I’m really passionate about, making sure these people can avoid coming to the emergency department.”
Bipartisan and Hoping for Change on Immigration
Chris Ahmann, 18, of Madison is a first-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin and a first-generation Filipino American.
“I like something that’s a little more bipartisan. Maybe more independent. Because there’s more variety than limiting yourself, because it’s more of a spectrum than just binary.”
“Immigration is really close to me. I’m one of the only people in my family who is in the U.S. right now. I was born here, but they want to come here to the U.S. I’d like to see it easier for people.”
Against Abortion, Concerned About Jobs
Emily McDermott, 27, of Lansdowne works from home as a seamstress. She has a daughter and is pregnant. She is a registered Democrat but plans to vote for Doug Mastriano, a hard-right Republican, for governor.
“Life begins in the womb, and I think that that is an inalienable right. And I don’t think it’s up to us to decide who lives and dies.”
How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
Regarding Mr. Mastriano: “It was during the shutdown, and I lost my job because of the pandemic. And so, he was the only one kind of fighting to get everybody to reopen back jobs.”
Voting to Slow Climate Change, a ‘Time Bomb’
Griffin Brunette, 24, lives in Hampton and works in marketing. He is a registered Democrat.
On climate change: “It’s a ticking time bomb. We do have the power to make a form of change and make our voices heard, and it all starts with voting.”
“I think a huge issue in getting people on board with what is going on is that it’s become a political thing, and I think that people on both sides should realize the future is in our hands. And we can do something about that by setting these Democrat/Republican things aside.”
Keeping It Personal and Not Ruling Out Trump
Jared Tate, 28, left, and Derrick Whitehead, 29, of Ypsilanti are high school friends who produce a podcast. Mr. Tate is a registered Democrat and works at Target while studying communications at Eastern Michigan University.
“If Trump runs again, I will consider voting for him, mainly because of the financial aspect of it. Trump did a lot for small-business owners that a lot of people don’t know about. I voted for Biden last time and wanted to give him a chance.”
Mr. Whitehead is not affiliated with a party and voted to re-elect President Donald J. Trump in 2020.
“I honestly don’t know if I am going to vote or not.”
“I look at it more as personal. If it doesn’t have anything to do with me and my inner circle or family, it doesn’t concern me.”
‘What’s Best for the Collective Versus the Singular’
Emily Matzke, 24, lives in Prairie du Sac. She does not identify with a political party and works in agricultural marketing.
“I just wish people just had more of an ability to compromise and know that not everything will be perfect for everyone, but if it could be better for the majority, then it’s at least what is best for all.”
“I feel we can only move forward as kind people and a country if we can figure out a way to be kind. What’s best for the collective versus the singular.”
Seeing a Future in an ‘Immigrant-Friendly’ Past
Angel Martinez, 20, of Tempe is studying political science with a minor in Spanish at Arizona State University and works as a night desk attendant at his apartment complex. He is a Democrat, with immigration, climate and voting rights his biggest issues.
“We just need to get back to our roots of being immigrant-friendly in this country. A lot of people have a really bad sentiment towards immigrants, especially immigrants from Latin American countries. Especially Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, all those countries, just because there’s this notion that jobs are being stolen or welfare is being stolen.”
Believing in Abortion Rights: ‘How I Was Raised’
Jake Heller, 26, of Philadelphia is a registered Democrat who works as a cheesemonger at Reading Terminal Market.
“What issues are most important to me? Probably the classics: abortion, you know, bodily autonomy, the environment and I’d say gun regulation.”
On abortion rights: “I think it’s important to kind of be on the forefront of voting for that and just having a strong opinion on that. And that’s just kind of how I was raised.”
Providing for a Son and His Education
Kelly Ocotl, 28, of Milwaukee is an executive assistant who attended a rally where Senator Ron Johnson appeared with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
“We have a son, so education is a big one. But the economy as well, you know, just trying to provide for our family is really important and how it’s kind of tanking right now.”
Human Rights, and Food for a City’s Homeless
Kish Williams, 25, of Philadelphia works as a dog handler and supervisor, is not affiliated with a party.
“I know everyone’s, you know, talking about L.G.B.T. politics, trans rights, trans issues, trans protection and medication, and, being a trans individual myself, that’s a concern for me. And also, for Philadelphia specifically, I’m really interested in seeing what people are doing with the food and homelessness crisis we’re having right now.”