As many anticipate the effects of young and often progressive new voters this midterm election season, Wake County high school students, even those who cannot vote yet, say they believe these elections will be enormously consequential—and, they hope, for the better for North Carolina and the nation.

For Gracee Rose, 15, “rights will be on the ballot” this cycle. She sees Republican pushback against protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and women’s reproductive rights as a clear sign that it is crucial for Democrats to secure seats both in the U.S. Congress and the NC General Assembly. Ted Budd and Cheri Beasley’s Senate race has caught Rose’s attention in particular. She notes the importance of keeping Democratic control in Congress.

“Every election is of the utmost importance in these midterms,” says Rose. “Recently there’s been a lot of controversy around reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights in Congress. They will specifically be coming up on the ballot not only in Congress, but also in the NC General Assembly.”

Others felt more confident in Democrats’ abilities to win Senate seats in key races in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, and were instead more concerned about the U.S. House of Representatives races. Such is the case for Akshat Yadav, 16, who believes that the 13th Congressional District race between Wiley Nickel and Bo Hines will be crucial.

“I think it’s really important to promote races like these and get Democrats into Congress to avoid the ‘MAGA’ agenda,” says Yadav.

He also emphasizes the significance of local elections, particularly in the state Senate, noting the potential for losing the ability to protect Governor Cooper’s veto power if Republicans win a supermajority in the General Assembly. It’s a common fear among progressive students in Wake County, especially following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Kristin Nagy, 17, says she is concerned about the potential implications of an abortion ban in North Carolina, calling it a “front-running issue” for the midterms.

“Something I hope candidates are able to take seriously is the implications for their communities and how limited abortion access can directly lead to more deaths of mothers, poverty, fewer education opportunities, and high crime rates,” says Nagy. 

Progress Since the 2020 Election

A common attitude among progressive Wake County teenagers is disappointment in the lack of sufficient progressive action since the 2020 election. 

Ava Wharton, 17, says she expected more from a Democratic president and a Democrat-controlled Congress.

“I don’t think people’s needs are being met when it comes to so many of these issues you would think Democrats would be advocating for,” says Wharton. 

She notes specifically her concern about the lack of strong actions to address issues such as healthcare coverage, mental health, and climate change. She says she feels that the Biden administration’s stances have been too moderate.  

Nagy echoes these sentiments. She says she believes that partisan polarization and elected officials catering to conservative views prevent significant progressive policies from passing.

“Politicians always have this need to balance what they believe might be the right decision, versus the decision that’s going to appeal to the most voters,” says Nagy. “There’s a definite love and fervor in this nation for conservative politics, which makes passing more progressive laws incredibly difficult.”

While they recognize certain levels of progress under the Biden administration, most students agree that they would prefer a more progressive presidential candidate in 2024 rather than a moderate who they feel makes too many strides to appease both parties. 

But Yadav disagrees and notes the Inflation Reduction Act, student loan forgiveness, and the CHIPS Act as notable “pro-middle class” achievements from the Biden administration.

“I think that many [young people] become [detached] from politics, primarily because many got into politics because they thought Trump was a radical,” says Yadav. “But as soon as you have a peaceful presidency and things aren’t hitting the national news, a lot of people tend to forget that these day-to-day bills are really important.” 

Recognizing that many of the criticisms that Biden has received stem from concerns about government spending, Yadav says spending on programs such as student loan forgiveness are “pro-middle class” policies, rather than spending money bailing out large corporations without any “trickle-down” to the middle class. He also notes the raising of taxes on the rich, as passed through the Inflation Reduction Act, as a major success for Democrats who have been calling for increased taxes on the wealthy for decades. 

Moving Forward

Despite being ineligible to vote in the midterms, each of these students holds strong political beliefs on the progress they hope to see emerge from the soon-to-be-elected officials and the future of progressive politics in the United States.

Increasing equity in healthcare is a front-running issue for Nagy, who’d like to see reform through a single-payer healthcare system and Medicare for all, though she doubts either will come to fruition within the next decade. 

“A progressive single-payer healthcare system is especially unlikely to be passed because so much of this country’s populace is against the idea completely,” says Nagy.

Immigration and refugee policy reform is another issue she advocates for, calling it the political platform she is most passionate about. While she says she’s grateful that Biden increased the refugee cap in the United States, Nagy says the increased margin was not great enough to have a significant impact. She hopes to see more progressive strides from Democrats on immigration following the midterms. 

Many students also expressed concerns about how issues such as gentrification and inflation are impacting the Wake County community, particularly through the housing market crisis. Having recently moved within Wake County, Wharton says she and her family observed these difficulties firsthand.

“Our current systems aren’t doing enough to support the growing population of our community,” says Wharton. 

She emphasized the Black Lives Matter movement as another key platform that’s important to her, adding it is not “just another trend” and should receive more consistent media attention and activism efforts. Even more, Wharton says, she believes that Black Lives Matter sheds light on how many of the social and political issues in America have historically been exacerbated for the Black community.

“Black people sit at the intersection of so many different problems here in the United States,” says Wharton. “When Black issues are solved and when Black people are paid attention to, then the rest of our issues are paid attention to.”

Gen Z as Future Voters

Overwhelmingly, each student voiced their hope for the future of progressive politics, emphasizing the importance of being politically engaged and aware of both local and national issues. Whether through social awareness, education, or protesting, many progressive Gen Z teenagers are constantly advocating for the platforms and communities they are passionate about ahead of the midterms.   

“If there’s one thing that people should know about youth political ideals today,” says Nagy, “it’s that overwhelmingly they’re looking for change to be made in ways that will positively impact people whose voices have not been heard in a long time.”

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