Last Saturday in the 6th District, with just a few weeks to go before election day, a modest crowd gathered at a soccer field in Sandy Springs.
People lounged on blankets in the blistering sun sipping iced coffee, fanned themselves in the shade along the field’s edges, paid half-attention to the band playing jangly music up on stage.
“Thank you all for being here to rock your Ossoff!” the band’s leader called out to close their set.
From the puns to the small-batch popsicles, the “Rock Your Ossoff!” rally was aimed squarely at millennials. Democrat Jon Ossoff, who was next up on stage, needs their votes.
“My team tells me that if young people come out at twice the rate that they are expected to in a special election like this, that we’ll win,” he said to applause. “So, it is all up to y’all.”
That’s no small challenge: younger people tend to vote at much lower rates than older folks.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 voters aged 18-34 turned out at just 39.4 percent. Voters aged 65-74 turned out at 70.1 percent. That’s a trend that goes back years for both general and midterm elections.
Ossoff could be positioned to change that. At just 30 years old, he’s a millennial. (Pew defines the generation as those born after 1980.)
And the 6th District race will be a test of whether young candidates can bring out young voters and how generational ties reach across party lines.
Ossoff’s age is a big part of why 19-year-old Nishat Firoj cast an early ballot for him.
“I think it’s actually really cool, and it’s really easy to relate to him because he is so young. And I think it’s also really inspiring for a lot of people like me who are young that we can make a difference, too,” she said before dashing off for a picture with the candidate.
But young voters face real challenges. They’re still new to the process and might not know basics like how to register or how to submit absentee ballots.
That’s why Georgette Dobkin co-founded GA 6th Youth Got This, a Democratic voter outreach group targeting young millennials.
“People often say: ‘They’re 18. It’s time for them to figure it out on their own,’” Dobkin said. “I don’t really necessarily agree with that.”
Dobkin has two millennial children of her own, both home from college for the summer. She spent Saturday afternoon canvassing with her son, Jack, in suburban Cobb County.
She said a small group of moms started GA 6th Youth Got This. Now it’s run mostly by young volunteers trying to drive turnout through social media.
Now, you might be thinking: “This is just political helicopter parenting!” Dobkin said it’s not that simple.
“As moms, isn’t it part of our duty to help [our kids] as they’re making this transition to being adults?” she asked. “So, it really was more that than me telling my kids to get out of bed and go vote.”
Then, there are young Republican voters. A few could be found Tuesday night at a pizzeria in Chamblee watching Ossoff take on Karen Handel in a televised debate.
Spencer Goldstein, 27, plans to vote for Handel. He said Ossoff’s age makes him uncomfortable.
“I always ask people: ‘How would you feel if I ran for Congress?’ And the answer is generally negative,” he said between sips of beer. “I think you have to have more years under your belt to do this job.”
Goldstein also said he’s OK with the fact that the average member of Congress is in their late 50s.
Republicans have repeatedly tried to use Ossoff’s age against him.
“I don’t find that people my age are bonded in any way politically,” said 30-year-old Caroline Jameson.
She’s happy to see a fellow millennial running for office, but said she’s proudly supporting Handel, who is 25 years her senior.
Steven Olikara thinks about this stuff all the time. He runs the Millennial Action Project, which tries to get young members of Congress to work together across party lines.
“A 33-year-old Democrat might have more in common with a 33-year-old Republican than she might have with a member in her own party,” he said.
Olikara said that’s helped the caucus come together on issues like climate change and student debt.
But lawmaking comes later. For now, there’s still an election on in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
And Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie said Democrats have more on the line if young people don’t vote.
“Younger people in the United States are more likely to be of color, and people of color are more likely to be Democrats,” she said. “[So], this is something that would actually hurt Democrats more than it would hurt Republicans.”