The 2016 election was a wake-up call for a lot of Americans. And on January 21, hundreds of thousands of women stormed the National Mall in protest of the new president and to advocate for policies to help, not harm women. The 2018 midterm election is the next opportunity for Americans to vote for who they want representing them in Washington. But female voters tend to show up in smaller numbers during midterms, and projections show the same will likely be true next year.
A new study from the Voter Participation Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on getting young Americans registered to vote, and Lake Research Partners released last week predicts that 40 million Americans who voted in 2016 won't turn out in 2018, two-thirds of which will be what the study calls the "Rising American Electorate (RAE)": millennials, people of color, and single women.
Historically, drop-off among voters in midterm elections compared to presidential elections is normal, but the turnout among the "Rising American Electorate" falls at much higher rates, and the study projects the same will hold true in 2018. While turnout among older white voters is expected to decrease 22% from 2016, turnout among millennials, people of color, and unmarried women could fall 35%.
Young single women consistently vote at lower rates than their older, married counterparts. Page Gardner, founder and president of the Voter Participation Center, says this is partially because millennials aren't as settled, which makes it more difficult to register and find a polling place. Young women also aren't as economically stable as men their age or older women, and working hourly or multiple jobs makes it more difficult to take time off to vote.
In 2012, 58% of eligible single women voted, while 70% of eligible married women did. Two years later in the 2014 midterm election, 36% of unmarried women voted, compared to 50% of married women. So, not only did married women outvote single women each year, single women also saw a higher drop-off rate during the midterm.
The same is likely to happen in 2018, according to the study, though projections specifically for women aren't available.
However, Isaac Bloom, organizing director of Indivisible (a progressive nonprofit working to defeat the Trump agenda), thinks people are more engaged than ever and doesn't expect to see such low turnout in 2018.
"It's incredibly important for the progressive movement as a whole to focus on voter turnout among people of color, women, and youth voters," Bloom told Refinery29. He's confident those demographics will come out to vote, though, saying, "They know that this presidency is hostile to their interests."
Conservative organizations see the potential power of young female voters, too, often taking the same approach as the left — positioning the need for millennial women to vote as opposition to the other side's political efforts.
"While the radical activists on the left stir up divisiveness and toxicity in our national discourse, it continues to become increasingly important that Millennials, specifically women, lean into the challenge and stay engaged in the electoral process," said Jake Hoffman, communications and media director for Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit that organizes students, in a statement to Refinery29.
There are other indicators that the current political climate may push more young women to vote: Women, more so than men, are tuning into what's happening in Washington since Donald Trump was elected president. According to a Pew Research study, 58% of women across party lines said they're paying increased attention to politics.
At the same time, millennials tend to be more liberal than their parents. Because Republicans currently control both branches of Congress and the White House, as well as the fact that the number of millennials old enough to vote continues to increase, Gardner does think turnout among young voters will be slightly higher in 2018 than in 2014.
Some experts believe it's too early to start speculating. Vanessa Cardenas, director of strategic communications for Emily's List (a Democratic political action committee committed to putting pro-choice women in office), says women are more motivated to vote when there are quality candidates on the ballot who will fight for issues women care about — but it's unclear who those candidates will be in 2018.
"In our view, the best way to generate interest from underserved communities is to get strong women candidates who will fight for the issues that women/families/communities care about," Cardenas told Refinery29, listing U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and Rep. Stephanie Murphy as examples.
That said, Cardenas does think that Congress' current efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (which, no matter how its done, would result in upwards of 20 million people losing health insurance in the next decade) should motivate young women to get to the polls next year. Female senators from both parties have come out strongly against the GOP's constantly evolving plan, and Republican women essentially killed their party's proposal to repeal Obamacare without a replacement policy after they were initially excluded from the GOP's healthcare working group.
"The current administration and their allies in Congress have shown what happens when women are not at the table," she said. "We have a Congress controlled by the GOP that is pushing an anti-women agenda by ending funding for Planned Parenthood, slashing Medicaid, and ending maternity care in their effort to revoke Obamacare."
In terms of actually getting people to the polls, Gardner, from the Voter Participation Center, thinks it makes more strategic sense to focus on registering new voters and getting them to the ballot box. "The much bigger pool of potential voters is among the unregistered than those already registered who don't vote," Gardner said.
And that work isn't exclusively for longtime activists and established organizations. Bloom says the best way to combat voter drop-off in 2018 is for young women to get involved with groups leading the resistance against the Trump administration now.
"There’s this sort of myth or public perception that elections happen every four years, and otherwise there’s not really a role for people to play in the meantime," he said. But according to Bloom, organizing and civic engagement are like a muscle — "the more you exercise it, the stronger it is," he said.
Bloom added, "If millennial women can get engaged now, if they can engage that muscle, they’re going to be a big force in the midterm elections."