More than three-quarters of registered voters under age 30 in Oklahoma didn’t cast a ballot in the November statewide election, according to a Tulsa World analysis of voter registration data.
The 24% turnout among the under-30 crowd is a nearly seven-point decline from the 2018 midterm election, when about 31% of registered voters in that age group cast ballots.
Suspected reasons for the decline vary.
Some have pointed to 2018 and 2020 as being outliers of sorts for measuring under-30 voter interest. A 2018 state question regarding legalizing medical marijuana and 2020 civil rights protests drove many young voters to the polls.
Some say a lack of competitive legislative races contributed to a decline in interest.
In all, about 93,300 voters 30 or younger cast ballots in the Nov. 8 general election, compared to the nearly 112,000 who cast ballots in the November 2018 election, according to the World’s analysis.
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The turnout trend is similar among other age groups in the state, albeit not as pronounced as among the under-30s.
Overall, state voter participation declined from 56.1% in the November 2018 midterm election to 50.35% in the November 2022 midterm election. Turnout generally is higher during a presidential election than in a general election in the middle of a president’s term.
The decline in young-voter turnout comes despite efforts to increase voter participation among those 30 and younger.
League of Women Voters of Oklahoma Vice President Stephanie Henson called the turnout numbers “disheartening.” Henson said she can think of a couple of reasons turnout likely declined: the number of noncompetitive races on the ballot and the lack of a hot button–issue state question.
The League’s “Grab Your Future by the Ballot” campaign used social media aimed at stirring young-voter interest in the 2022 election cycle.
Henson said it’s easier to get registered voters to the polls when “they have skin in the game.”
That’s why Henson said she was disappointed personally when State Question 820 regarding whether to make recreational marijuana legal in Oklahoma failed to make it on the general election ballot.
Gov. Kevin Stitt placed the measure on the March 7 ballot after the state Supreme Court said there wasn’t enough time to get the matter on the November ballot.
Henson said that to have the vote delayed after initiative petition organizers worked hard to “raise their voices as citizens, … to me that could create a little apathy.”
University of Tulsa Political Science Department Chair Matt Hindman said it helps to look to past election cycles when evaluating the November vote.
The turnout in the 2020 presidential election was the highest nationwide in 100 years, Hindman said. In Oklahoma, 69% of voters cast ballots in the November 2020 presidential election, while only 50% did in November 2022.
Nationwide, about 47% of voters cast ballots in the November midterm election, Hindman said.
President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings may have also led to a dip in voter interest, Hindman said.
“The choices for many young voters was: ‘Do we show up and vote for a Democrat, or do we sit out the election?’” Hindman said.
Other factors that may weigh against voter participation in Oklahoma include a relatively short period of time for early voting and a lack of automatic voter registration, he said.
But despite the decline this year in voter turnout, Hindman said he doesn’t see that trend continuing.
“I would be surprised if we return to significantly lower turnout” in general elections, Hindman said. “Voters are very polarized right now, and fear can be a potential factor when it comes to turning out voters.”
Henson said she thinks the messages some older voters have been sending to younger voters regarding voting may be affecting turnout.
“I think our kids are hearing some of this, just real negative attitudes toward government and politics, almost like it is a dirty word,” Henson said. “I think the messages we are sending to our youth” are having an impact.
Henson said the decline in voter participation this past election will need to be reviewed more by League officials.
“A social media campaign is never as effective as that human conversation that you have around the chowder-kettle,” Henson said, borrowing a phrase from poet Walt Whitman.