This year, Pennsylvania led the nation in youth voter registration by a wide margin. According to Democratic data firm TargetSmart, voter registration among 18-29 year olds increased more than 16 percent this year. The next closest state was Rhode Island, with an 11 percent increase.
And new data from progressive political group NextGen shows that Pittsburgh played a large part in that impressive voter-registration surge.
Pennsylvania director for NextGen America, Jarrett Smith, says the group has registered 38,758 voters throughout the commonwealth, most of those voters being between 18 and 34 years old. Of those, 6,532 hail from Pennsylvania’s 17th and 18th Congressional Districts, which include all of Allegheny and Beaver counties, as well as a section of Cranberry in Butler County.
These two congressional districts alone represented 16.7 percent of NextGen’s total.
Smith says NextGen focused mostly on registering students on college campuses, without endorsing any political party. He says NextGen set a goal to register 4,500 voters in the 18th District, which includes Pittsburgh and Allegheny County’s southern and eastern suburbs.
But NextGen exceeded that mark and registered 5,300 in the 18th District.
“It was really a total success,” says Smith of NextGen’s efforts in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. “We reached 100 percent of our voter-registrations goals.”
The 16th Congressional District, which stretches from Butler County to Erie, also saw some impressive figures. Despite only including a few small universities, like Slippery Rock and Edinboro, nearly 2,000 young voters registered on college campuses there.
“For a midterm year, young people are really getting fired up about the election,” says Smith.
What’s behind the newfound enthusiasm? Smith says climate change and post-college job opportunities are important issues among those who registered with NextGen. But the biggest issue was the affordability of healthcare.
“We found that, time and time again, in the field, health care and affordable health care were the most important issues,” said Smith. “Students are concerned they won’t be able to afford health care after they graduate.”
Smith added that President Donald Trump is also driving some of this youth engagement. Polling suggests that young people support left-leaning policies and politicians by wide margins. Smith sees the growth in young-voter involvement continuing up to and through the midterm elections.
“Trump’s values are so out of line [with] what young people believe,” says Smith. “Overall, we are seeing a much higher level of interest this year, especially in a non-presidential election year.”