Pitt students say youth vote boosted Democrats in midterm elections


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The Cathedral of Learning from Schenley Plaza.

By Alexandra Ross, Senior Staff Writer

The results of Pennsylvania’s Senate election prove where the state’s political power lies, according to Mayah Mbangah.

“The power rests in the corners of Pennsylvania — in Pittsburgh and Philly,” Mbangah, a senior communications and linguistics major, said. “I think with Fetterman’s win, it shows that when we, like, the corners show out, we can make a change.”

The Associated Press called several prominent Pennsylvania races for Democrats by Wednesday morning, including John Fetterman for the Senate, Josh Shapiro for governor and Summer Lee and Chris Deluzio for the U.S. House of Representatives. Looking nationally, control of the Senate has still not been called for Democrats or Republicans, while Republicans will likely control the House of Representatives — but not by as large of a margin as some forecasters projected

Will Van Belle, a junior statistics and economics major, said the Democrats’ relatively strong performance in the midterms surprised him, especially considering how the majority of Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden, a Democrat. 

“I was definitely expecting Republicans to sort of take over a little bit,” Van Belle said. “I felt like people generally across America were mad, sort of, right now with how the presidency is working out, but I was kind of surprised to see that’s like, a little more even.”

One reason for Democratic victories in Pennsylvania may be the drive of college students to vote, according to Jake Vasilias, a sophomore public and professional writing major. Vasilias said the Fetterman campaign rally, held on Pitt’s campus last weekend, showcased the energy of young voters. 

“The campaign rally last Saturday, I mean, it was crazy college energy,” Vasilias said. “It felt like 70% college kids, it was a lot of college-aged students, and I feel like that would be the national trend that would drive [elections] because, typically, college students vote for Democratic candidates.”

Emily Zaroff, a junior psychology major, agreed that high voter turnout amongst young people boosted the Democratic party’s performance in the midterms.

“The younger generation is starting to see a lot of the big problems and starting to push for those reforms, and I think the Democrats also are pushing for those reforms,” Zaroff said. “I think because the younger generation is now being able to vote, we’re seeing those trends happen.” 

More than 31% of registered voters in Pittsburgh’s fourth ward — home to Pitt’s Oakland campus — showed up to the polls on Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Union Progress, which said the youth voting bloc holds “incredible power” over the midterms. This 2022 figure trails behind 2018’s nearly 36% voter turnout in the ward, but both the 2018 and 2022 midterms had historically high turnout rates across Pennsylvania

Mbangah said she thinks another reason for strong Democratic turnout is a “more diverse range of candidates” in the party, which could be more approachable to independents and Republicans. 

“Democrats are known for being either really radical or, like, not taken seriously at all, so I think we’ve gotten more candidates like Fetterman, who, still [left-leaning], but you know, they’re teetering in the middle and maybe make it easier for other parties to view us as approachable,” Mbangah said. 

Abortion became one of the top issues for young voters, especially Democrats, after the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June. Zaroff said she believed protecting abortion access was the most important issue in the election. Even though she lives and votes in New York, she said she paid attention to Pennsylvania elections because her abortion rights as a Pitt student could be affected by the results. 

“I come from New York and I know that generally, my rights are safe there,” Zaroff said. “But because I have a lease here and I’m living here, that was tricky, because my rights here could have been, you know, taken away, and that’s something that I felt very strongly about and wanted to feel safe living here.”

Van Belle said he didn’t vote Tuesday, because he had an exam later in the day and had to study beforehand. However, he said he felt good about the results because of his support for Democratic policies on legalizing marijuana.

“I was probably going to be voting Democrat this race,” Van Belle said. “I’m hoping pot’s going to be legalized in Pennsylvania soon, so that’s probably like, my main reason for [wanting to vote] that way.”

Zaroff said voters should vote based on their values, not their party, when they take to the polls each November — and she believes they did so this year. 

“Not just Democrats need to vote for Democrats, Republicans need to vote for Republicans, we need to vote for what we [believe] in so that we get representatives who represent us and what we believe in,” Zaroff said. “Luckily, Pennsylvania got what the majority wanted and our rights are safe, and I’m just really happy with how it turned out.”