Did younger voters – mobilized to the polls – tip Florida’s primary?

NextGen America organizers register students to vote on Florida State University's campus in the days leading up to the 2018 primary elections. A proposed constitutional amendment would reform the primary process. CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

After a stunning surge of voter support Tuesday night, Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum became the first African-American nominee of a major political party in Florida.

One category of voters – those labeled as “unlikely” to vote – may be largely responsible for Gillum’s success.

Olivia Bercow, deputy communications director for progressive group NextGen America, said the organization is “still crunching numbers” in the wake of Gillum’s win, but turnout in so-called “youth heavy” precincts is way up.

It’s still too early to know exactly what the overall voter demographics were in the primary election. The hunch is that young voters may have made a difference in the outcome.

“I think it’s really, really evident the kind of energy that’s coming out of these young people,” said Alexandra Farrington, a program manager at NextGen America. “And I think that’s something that’s really unique and empowering about the young people coming to consciousness in this environment and that’s that they see a problem and they see a simple solution.”

The Gillum campaign mobilized early to reach out to younger voters by striking a bold progressive chord on issues like gun control, a $15 minimum wage, Medicare-for-All and climate change.

One NextGen report says that in youth-heavy precincts in Tallahassee (near Florida State University and Florida A&M University) there were five times more votes in the primary than in 2014, and “75 percent of the vote share went to Gillum.”

The organization has been active in Florida since September and officially endorsed Gillum in June as the most progressive candidate on the ballot.

Since June, NextGen reports that organizers knocked on 81,000 doors for the Tallahassee candidate, made 75,000 phone calls, sent 300,000 text messages, and registered 19,500 new young voters who were eligible to vote in the primary.

Gillum won the Democratic nomination with 34 percent of the state vote, toppling former congresswoman Gwen Graham by 3 percent. It’s worth noting that Gillum – as well as his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis – are just 39 years old. Other statewide candidates who won in the primary are in their 30s and 40s.

“…We know that when millennials go to the polls, progressives get elected,” NextGen Florida state director Carly Cass told the Florida Phoenix earlier this month. “We know that millennials are the biggest voting bloc.”

Young voters are historically poor at showing up to vote, especially during midterm elections (and even more so for primaries), but tides are shifting this year in young voter turnout, and it’s catching the attention of political analysts.

Will the youth surge happen again? It’s too early to guess, analysts say. Gillum sought support from young and progressive voters, and he got it – even if the polls didn’t predict his win.

For analysts, a “likely voter” may be someone older who’s had the time to form a habit of showing up to vote. For groups like NextGen, a “likely voter” might be something different.

“The issues that young people care about are on the ballot this fall,” Nathan Davis said, a 20-year-old NextGen organizer at Florida State University. “Sometimes people feel disenfranchised, so you have to persist with people and bring them into the system.”

NextGen America is funded by American billionaire Tom Steyer and opened a Florida chapter last September. The organization has since registered an estimated 26,000 voters before the primary, hired 150 organizers, recruited 620 volunteers and now operates on 43 campuses across the state, including on all four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Only time will tell if most young Floridians find the progressive Gillum to be the candidate to address the problems they see, and analysts will begin to have a better idea in the coming month as the Democratic and Republican campaigns mobilize for the Nov. 6 general election.

As Gillum accepted the nomination at a victory party in Tallahassee Tuesday night, he told supporters “we can be the David in this situation where there is a Goliath.”

NextGen founder Steyer, who provided money and ground troops for Gillum, declared his money well spent in a statement Tuesday:

“(Gillum’s) campaign has already changed Florida for the better, by bringing new people, who saw themselves in his story, into our democracy,” Steyer said. “(Gillum’s) victory is further proof that when Democrats put forward candidates that tell the truth and embrace a bold vision for the future, they win.”

CD Davidson-Hiers
CD Davidson-Hiers is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Florida State University with a degree in Creative Writing and French. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key honors societies, and has received multiple writing awards for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Prior to joining the Florida Phoenix, CD worked at the Tallahassee Democrat and has bylines in Tallahassee Magazine. She is a native of Pensacola and currently lives in Tallahassee with her tabby cat, Faulkner.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here