Election Day 2022: These Are the Races Where College Students May Make a Big Impact

In areas with higher-than-average youth voters and close races, college students can have an outsized impact on election results.

Published November 8, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Election Day 2022: These Are the Races Where College Students May Make a Big Impact
Student Voting
Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP / Getty Images

  • The margins in a handful of races during Tuesday's midterms are expected to be slim.
  • Youth turnout and first-time voters could make the difference in races for governor, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Traditionally aged college students are expected to have a sizable impact in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Every vote counts. But in some midterm races, the youth vote may mean a little more.

A report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University attempts to parse out which races traditionally aged college students may have the biggest impact on during Tuesday's midterm elections. The Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI) looks not only at the percentage of the population in each state under the age of 30, but it also weighs how close each race is expected to be.

That helps weed out contests a Democratic or Republican nominee is expected to win in a landslide.

Young and first-time voters are expected to make a sizable impact in races in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to the report.

Here are the specific races to keep in mind when looking at youth turnout:

Senate Races

  1. Georgia — Incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock looks to hold his seat against Republican Herschel Walker. Warnock narrowly won his seat in 2020 through a runoff election. It will likely be a close contest once again, with a recent poll showing both candidates tied at 48% among those who say they will "definitely" vote.
  2. Arizona — Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat, is at risk of losing his position to Republican candidate Blake Masters. A Friday poll shows Masters holding a slim 48% to 47% lead over Kelly. Arizona's high college attendance rate (8% of the state's population is currently enrolled) could sway the election.
  3. Nevada — Another Democratic incumbent — Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — is at risk of losing a seat Tuesday as a recent poll shows her deadlocked with Republican candidate Adam Laxalt. According to CIRCLE, the state has a below-average voter registration rate among the youth population (52%).
  4. Pennsylvania — Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is not running for reelection. Republican Mehmet Oz, more commonly known as Dr. Oz, is running against Democrat John Fetterman in a race that has commanded national attention.
  5. Wisconsin — GOP incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson leads Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes in recent polls. Youths make up 16% of the eligible voting population, according to CIRCLE.
  6. New Hampshire — Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is at risk of losing her seat to challenger Don Bolduc. Hassan narrowly won her seat in 2016.
  7. North Carolina — Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd are battling for a soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat. Budd grew his lead over Beasley in a recent poll.
  8. Colorado — Incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet faces Republican Joe O'Dea. Bennet holds a sizable lead, and CIRCLE stated Colorado ranks so highly because it historically has had some of the highest youth voter turnout in the nation.
  9. Florida — Incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is up against Democrat Val Demings. The Republican-leaning state's youth voters supported President Joe Biden by a 22-point margin in 2020, but Biden did not win the state.
  10. Ohio — Republican Sen. Rob Portman is not seeking reelection. That leaves Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Tim Ryan in a tight race where youths make up 16% of the state's population, according to CIRCLE.

Governor Races

  1. Wisconsin — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels and Democrat Tony Evers are virtually deadlocked in most polls. Youths have a 68% voter registration rate, leaving them primed to make their mark on this election.
  2. Arizona — Current Gov. Doug Ducey is retiring, leaving Republican Kari Lake and Democrat Katie Hobbs to fight for another hotly contested Arizona seat. The youth electorate in Arizona is larger and more diverse than the national average, per CIRCLE.
  3. Kansas — Incumbent Democrat Laura Kelly and Republican Derek Schmidt face off on Tuesday. While a Democrat is the incumbent, former President Donald Trump won the state by 15 points in 2020.
  4. Michigan — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is running for reelection against Republican Tudor Dixon. The youth vote was the deciding factor for Biden's narrow win of the state in 2020, according to CIRCLE.
  5. Georgia — Incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams on Tuesday. Abrams has made a concerted effort to attract youth and college-going voters during her campaign.
  6. Nevada — Incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak is running for reelection against Republican Joe Lombardo. The race is expected to be close, but the state has a lower-than-average youth voter registration rate (52%) and share of residents enrolled in college, according to CIRCLE.
  7. Pennsylvania — Democrat Josh Shapiro currently leads Republican Doug Mastriano in most polls. The youth vote was critical in swinging the state in Biden's favor in 2020.
  8. Maine — Incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is running against former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican. Despite youths making up a small proportion of the overall voting population, CIRCLE stated the youth vote has historically influenced past Maine elections heavily.
  9. Maryland — Current Gov. Larry Hogan is term-limited and cannot run for reelection, leaving Republican Dan Cox to face Democrat Wes Moore in a race Moore is expected to win.
  10. Oregon — Democrat Tina Kotek holds a narrow lead over Republican Christine Drazan in a recent poll. Youth voter turnout has been far above the national average in past elections, according to CIRCLE, which could help decide this election.

House of Representatives Races

  1. Washington 8th — Includes rural areas west of Seattle and Tacoma
  2. Kansas 3rd — Encompasses part of Kansas City along the Missouri border
  3. Virginia 2nd — Covers the southeastern portion of the state, including Virginia Beach
  4. Colorado 8th — A new district that stretches north of Denver
  5. Michigan 3rd — Includes the city of Grand Rapids
  6. Maine 2nd — Encompasses most of the state north of the coast
  7. New York 3rd — Includes parts of Long Island and Queens
  8. Ohio 1st — A new district that includes Cincinnati
  9. California 27th — Includes much of northern Los Angeles County
  10. Michigan 7th — A redrawn district that now takes up much of the central part of the state, including Lansing