Coronavirus and social protests motivating young California voters: poll

A new poll released Monday by Power California, a nonprofit working to get more young people to vote, suggests that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic coupled with growing concern about social justice issues are pushing young voters to the ballot boxes.

The survey of about 1,500 eligible California voters between the ages of 18 and 29 revealed that nearly two out of three say they plan to vote in 2020. That’s a 10 percent increase from a similar poll conducted in 2018 by Power California.

The increase coincides with a stark uptick in attendance by young people at Black Lives Matter protests and other social movements. The ratio of young voters who have taken part in a protest or march this year doubled, to nearly 40 percent, compared to the nonprofit’s 2018 poll. Nearly 80 percent of those polled expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You see the intersection of them protesting and marching, and then them wanting to take that to the polls and the voting booth,” said Power California executive director Luis Sánchez.

The devastating effect of the pandemic is also mobilizing California’s youth, the poll suggests, with 68 percent of Latinos and 72 percent African Americans saying they feel they lack support from state government. Nearly one in two respondents said they have had difficulty buying food, medicine or household supplies and 48 percent of those polled continue to work outside their homes.

Half of California’s population under 21 has at least one immigrant parent, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, meaning that many 2020 voters could be the first of their families to vote in the US. But despite a sharp spike in the 2018 elections, when young voters showed up at the polls in much larger numbers than they did in 2014, young voter turnout has historically been low.

Since 2018, Power California has helped pre-register 75,000 young people who will be eligible to vote for the first time, and about a third of California’s roughly 18 million population under 35 years old has pre-registered for the 2020 election.

“You’ve never had these confluent of forces coming together,” Sanchez said. “Young people are fighting for both their physical and economic life.”

The poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent, was conducted for Power California by Latino Decisions.

This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.