A slew of candidates endorsed by former president Donald Trump saw big losses across the country in the midterms last week, and Democrats performed better than some expected. Voters under the age of 30 played a major part in those results, said John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of the book "Fight: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America." Della Volpe joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel to talk about it. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Jeremy Siegel: You and I talked before the midterms and you said, I don't know if we're going to see a red wave or a blue wave, but I do know we're going to see a Gen Z wave. Looks like you were right. To get started, can you tell people who exactly are Gen Z, who we're talking about when we talk about Gen Z, and how did they affect the midterm results?

John Della Volpe: When I talk about Gen Z, Jeremy, first of all, they're not all even eligible to vote right now. So this is still a burgeoning voting bloc. But I'm talking about the youngest voters in the electorate, generally people under 30: teens, mid-20s, up until 30. That group, mostly Gen Z with some Millennials, have really changed and transformed politics, I think, over the last three election cycles, 2018, 2020 and 2022.

To give you a sense of what happened, 63% of this voting bloc voted for Democrats, 35% for Republicans. That essentially was enough to mute the over 65 vote because the intensity of the support for Democrats had an extraordinary impact on the outcome. And Jeremy, when we think about Gen Z and Millennials together, by 18 points, they supported Democrats. Everybody over the age of 40 supported Republicans. The degree to which the red wave was blocked — it is blocked 100% because of the enthusiasm of Gen Z as well as Millennials.

Siegel: That's fascinating. I mean, on one hand, it makes sense. We think often, there's that old saying about being young and being liberal, and getting older and becoming more conservative. But at the same time, that split into votes, almost canceling each other out, did that surprise you, seeing the results come in last week?

Della Volpe: It did and it didn't. I think the intensity of the support — when we talked about a Gen Z wave a few weeks ago, I knew that we'd see levels of participation that were going to look a lot like 2018, which is the highest level ever on record. We're not going to know, honestly, for weeks, if not months, what the final results were. But clearly, we've been picking up rising intensity in women and among college students, among the young activists who are supportive of the Biden agenda. So we saw that coming. I wasn't sure if it would get into the mid-60s [in voter turnout.] In places like Pennsylvania and in Arizona, this Gen Z, under 30 vote exceeded 70%. I think that's what surprised me.

"In places like Pennsylvania and in Arizona, this Gen Z, under 30 vote exceeded 70%. I think that's what surprised me."
-John Della Volpe, director of polling, Harvard Kennedy School

Siegel: Let's talk 2024. Trump says he's running. It's obviously really early still. But looking at the results of the midterms and especially the way Gen Z factored in, and the fact that in two years more people are going to be able to vote, how are you thinking Gen Z could shape the election in two years?

Della Volpe: Well, the days of writing off the Millennial and Gen Z generations and competing on a national basis are over. George W. Bush was able to win 45% of the youth vote during his elections the early 2000s, and put together, obviously, a national constituency. Donald Trump was able to keep Hillary Clinton below 60% and win. But younger voters, Millennials and Gen Z, accounted for 40%, a solid 40%, of the vote. It's going to be near impossible for a Trump-like Republican to compete on a national basis.

Remember, the reason that Gen Z is as active as they are is because of Donald Trump, right? Because of the Donald Trump policies that they so roundly rejected in 2017 and 2018, with the passion from the grassroots movement led by March for Our Lives and the Climate Strike, the combination of those two factors. And I think we'll just continue to see more engagement as we head into '24 with him on the ballot.

Siegel: You've gone around the country talking to groups of young voters, of Gen Z students. Beyond just hating Donald Trump, what are the issues at the core of what Gen Z voters care about when they cast their ballots?

Della Volpe: You know, earlier this year, six months before the Dobbs decision, Jeremy, the first survey I did with this generation was for Snapchat. And number one on the list of, I think, 17 issues, young people indicated that preserving their individual rights and freedoms was paramount in their mind related to this election. It wasn't gas prices, it wasn't inflation. It was preserving rights, six months before the Dobbs decision.

"Young people indicated that preserving their individual rights and freedoms was paramount in their mind related to this election. It wasn't gas prices, it wasn't inflation. It was preserving rights, six months before the Dobbs decision."
-John Della Volpe, director of polling, Harvard Kennedy School

So I think framing the next campaign around this fight for individual rights — the right to feel safe in the classroom, the right to clean air and clean water, the right to not be bullied and harassed if you're a member of the LGBTQ community, etc., — that's what they care about. Of course, cost of living is very, very important. But I think framed around the sense of losing rights in America, going backwards, that's what young people are fighting for.

Siegel: So those are issues that fall in line with Democrats for the most part, especially after the Dobbs decision. But looking ahead to the next election, how do you think, if at all, we will see the GOP try to court young voters, given the impact they had in the midterms?

Della Volpe: I think it's an open question. I think the Republicans have largely dismissed young voters going back a decade. So the early indications from what I've been just kind of picking up through the news and social media and TV is really mocking young people for taking these kind of giveaways, rather than appreciating and listening why they have the anxiety that they have about not only their future, but the future of other people in this country are more vulnerable than they are.

Unless the Republican Party takes a giant step back, appreciates the fact that moderates and independents — those are just different words from Millennials and Gen Z-ers. By definition, they are more independent than others. Unless the Republican Party takes a step back, listens and engages, they have very little hope at this stage, I think, of making significant inroads with this generation.