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Growing youth vote could upend politics, but older voters still have the power

Whoever turns out the vote could swing the election
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Posted at 5:32 PM, Oct 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-28 11:05:37-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Historically, older voters like baby boomers and the silent generation consistently vote in general and midterm elections. But will that trend continue in 2022?

According to a recent study by AARP, people ages 50 + are poised to tip the scales in the upcoming midterms.

"They look at inflation as a major concern, not a surprise," State Director for AARP Jeff Johnson said. "And, it's not just gas prices, though, that certainly is significant. And food is one. Housing is certainly a big deal."

Johnson said, in the state's 2018 mid-term elections, the 50+ group made up 62% of the electorate. The survey also found "a significant majority (76%) of voters overall think the country is headed in the wrong direction, with 63% saying they are worried about their personal financial situation. The vast majority (90%) of voters 50+ say they are extremely motivated to vote in the November election."


THE VILLAGES

How do these numbers translate into real life? We traveled to the Villages to talk to random voters about what matters most to them and if they planned to vote.

At a donut shop, we sat down with Jan Washburn, 73, to discuss the issues.

"I don't know that I have the same concerns as a lot of other people. But my biggest thing is the fact that we're on a fixed income," Washburn told Paluska. "Grocery prices, medical care, and, you know, prescription costs."

"Is there a candidate you're rooting for? Paluska asked.

"I think, really, there's a couple of candidates I'm leaning towards, but I'm still not sold on anybody. They're gonna have to do some real soul-searching for me," Washburn said.

While talking about the economy and money, Washburn turned the conversation to the one issue she worries about the most.

"Oh, the other thing I skipped, and I don't know how I did it because I'm constantly freaking out about the gun control," Washburn said. "I look every day and see all these murders and all these shootings. I will definitely vote for somebody with a solid plan and believe is going to do something about gun control. I don't care what party they are from."

"Would gun control be something you would vote for over helping the economy and inflation if someone had a strong gun control package that you agreed with?" Paluska asked.

"Probably yes. That bothers me more than almost anything. I mean, granted, I want my pocketbook to hold up. But if I run out of money, I got a family, right? But my biggest thing is I don't want my grandchildren and their children to not have a safe world. So for me, gun control is probably the number one problem."

Outside a restaurant a few blocks down from where we interviewed Washburn, we met Vietnam War veteran Kevin McCabe.

"I was with the 101st airborne," McCabe said.

A Purple Heart recipient McCabe lost his left leg to a landmine.

"What issue is the most important for you?" Paluska asked.

"Security," McCabe responded.

"You served, and you sacrificed your left leg for our country. Are you happy with where America is now and where we're headed?" Paluska asked.

"No. We have no protection, absolutely none. Our Mr. President downgraded our military downgraded our police departments downgraded everything. Hell, no, they're trying to get our guns away from us."

McCabe said he isn't a registered Republican or Democrat when it comes to his party affiliation.

"I vote for the best man," McCabe said. "Because I'm not affiliated. I was a Democrat for years. I went to Republican for two years. But, I vote for the man."

As a light drizzle began falling in the Villages, we caught up with Bob Klinger, 93, while putting the rain cover on his golf cart.

"What is your number one issue?" Paluska asked.

"For me, it is health insurance at my age," Klinger said.

"What do you think's important to them (young people)?" Paluska asked.

"I guess the future their country, of course, and in which way it's gonna go," Klinger said. "Like I say, I'm more of a liberal. And I like the politics that takes care of people. I'm against corporate greed and things like that. I consider myself a very religious person. And so I also when I'm looking at candidates, I look to see their values about their faith and things like."


YOUNG VOTERS

We interviewed two college students leading their generation in politics to ask what matters most to them. There might be extreme generational differences between young and old. But the same is true for younger voters and their peers.

We sat down with the President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action and the President of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans to learn what motivates their groups to vote and what they are fighting for.

"Personally, the most important issue for me is reproductive rights, and that's pretty obvious," Tamya Ticconi, President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, said.

"Why reproductive rights? If we have so many issues with inflation, why is that topic the most important?" Paluska asked.

"I think, honestly, the fight is more than just abortions at this point. And it's the fact that this opens the floodgates to them being able to overturn whatever they want, and people should be scared. No matter party identification or what they believe in, this opens the door for more things to come," Tacconi said. "We are a nonpartisan organization, but a lot of our students do tend to lean left within the organization."

"What does your future feel like for you growing up in America as someone who is Gen Z? because it's completely different than what the baby boomers went through," Paluska said.

"It feels like a lot of, I hate to say it, but fighting for things that we believe in, fighting for things I feel like I should have access to. I think a lot of Gen Z ers, me included, are feeling like this push to do and to achieve with the restrictions that are in place. Now. It's very hard to do so. We're coming into a society where you had mentioned inflation; we're looking at increased prices and cost of living. And, you're looking at these people coming into the generation, you know, they're looking for jobs, they're being told by older generations, like, 'hey, you should be doing this, you should have this house and pay off these loans. And we're entering a climate where that's just not possible anymore. Even in the millennial generation, there were a lot of people who were not able to pay off loans and were not able to buy homes. The American dream isn't what it used to be. And probably a lot of people won't be able to achieve it."

The top issues for Ticconi are abortion rights, climate change, health insurance, rising costs, and changes to the judicial system in America.

But, Ticconi tells Paluska she has a deep mistrust for politicians.

"I think that we are in this woke culture, and I think a lot of these politicians, I feel like, don't have the best intentions," Tacconi said. "And, it's kind of like, What can I say to get me to win? And I think a lot of Gen Z agree with that. That's why you are seeing that increased non-partisanship within the younger generation, no party identification because I feel like a lot of people are seeing through that. Especially when we look at politicians who flip sides, you know, 30 or 40 years ago, they were one way, and now they are completely opposite. I don't think that's a coincidence, or they just changed their mind. I think it's like, oh, this is what the times are now; let me do it so that I can win."

At American Social, we sat down with Brittany Lakhani, President of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans. The group meets monthly at American Social to discuss politics and what issues matter most to them.

"What is the biggest issue right now that worries you the most?" Paluska asked.

"So for me, and I think for our members, it's really the cost of living," Lakhani said. "I'm a law student. So I live on a set budget, and a lot of our members are college students, or they just graduated and have their first job. And with the inflation rate going up with, you know, possible increase in taxes, they're already living paycheck to paycheck.

Lakhani said her top issues are inflation, crime, and immigration.

"I definitely think that inflation and just the cost of living is the first one for most of us my age. And then a big one is crime. We've seen an uptick in crime right here in the City of Tampa, and you're hearing news stories about it all over the country. Immigration is a huge one we've already seen; they expect over 2 million people to come across the border illegally; with people on the terrorist watch list being caught, how many people aren't being caught? So that's another big concern."

Lakhani said her political leanings make her a target at times on campus. But she said she's fighting not just for her ideals but for everyone to get out and vote.

"I'm not here to advocate just for getting Republicans out there. We need high civic engagement in this country. Right? That's what we're founded on. Voting is one of our fundamental rights in the Constitution," Lakhani said. "And, I think we need to encourage, you know, high school students to pre-register to vote so that when they turn 18, they can go and vote; we need parents to instill how important it is that, you know, you're voting for the representatives to represent you for the next couple of years. You don't like how something is going, which sounds so cliche. Like, oh, if you don't like it, you can go vote for it. But that's the main thing that you can do.

"Do you think there'd be less polarization if more people showed up to the polls? And we got a better representation of how everyone's feeling?" Paluska asked.

"I do. I think that there would be I think that civic engagement is low in this country. It's not. It should be like 80% or something like that. But it's not. And I don't know if it's just like you said, people just feel like their votes don't count. They just don't care. I have friends like, 'oh, we didn't realize it was voting day.' We have 21 days of early voting, (vote by) mail, and voting on Election Day; you drive down the road, you see the signs, you didn't realize it was voting day?"

Data crunched by ABC Action News political expert Dr. Susan MacManus shows that younger voters choose not to be affiliated with a party. And voter apathy could be a reason why.

USF Student Victoria Clarke, 19, told us she doesn't trust politicians.

"They say one thing, and then they won't do it until 15 years later, and then they realize it's important to them again," Clarke said.

One of her main concerns is the rising cost of living and climate change.

"Honestly, I try not to think about it. Because I know it's gonna affect me later. But, like, right now, I just want to focus on my studies," Clarke said. "And I really, really want to find a job and live in Florida because I love it here. But you know, we're right on the water and on the beach, and sea levels are rising slowly, but they will. And you know, I feel that I won't be able to live here much longer."

Will the issues and desire for change get younger voters to the polls? Only time will tell.

"Is this the time when Gen Z steps up in a new way, they're relatively new voters, or where millennials establish themselves as a dominant voting bloc? There's nothing in my book that makes me think that that's likely to change in this particular cycle," Johnson said. "Again, we'd be delighted for everybody to participate in the voting process. So it would certainly be an interesting and welcome shock if we saw every generation show up the way that older voters have consistently done."

This story was originally published by WFTS in Tampa Bay, Florida.