Hart Research: Turning Young Activists into Voters

The findings in this memo are based on two online discussion boards among young nonvoters who engaged in this summer’s movement for racial justice, conducted August 12 to 14, 2020. One board consisted of whites age 18-34 and the other of people of color age 18-34. None of the participants voted in either the 2016 or 2018 elections (including some who were too young to have done so), but all have actively engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Key Takeaways

  1. This summer’s nationwide groundswell around addressing racial injustice has energized these young people in new and unprecedented ways. 
  2. These young people desperately want to see change—and, while it isn’t a magic bullet, voting is one key mechanism toward getting there. 
  3. Protesting without voting is insufficient—but voting without protesting is not enough either. 
  4. Heading into November, fighting racism and stopping the spread of COVID-19 are the most salient issues on these young voters’ minds. 
  5. The movement was conceived on social media, where it was quickly catapulted to become an omnipresent part of these young voters’ daily lives. 

Strategic Recommendations

  1. While these young people see voting as a logical next step, they are more passionate about the act of protesting than they are about the act of voting. In fact, many only are enthusiastic about voting this November because of the protests. 
  2. These young people are angry, frustrated, and fearful for the country’s future—but for many, it is this very anger that is driving their enthusiasm to vote. By contrast, if they DON’T vote this November, it will be because they feel hopeless and defeated. 
  3. For these voters, this summer’s protests have been about much more than just police brutality. They view racism as structural and systemic, and there are many concrete policy changes that they want to see enacted. They are drawn to candidates who not only are able to cultivate real energy around the movement (talk the talk), but have concrete, actionable plans for lifting up communities of color (walk the walk). 
  4. While many are skeptical that real change happens at the federal level, they nearly universally recognize the importance of state and local elections in making a change in their lives. However, the vast majority readily admit that they do not know enough about what is down the ballot and express a desire to learn more.