You probably heard that there wasn’t a red wave in the recent midterms. What you may not know is that without the giant uptick in youth voting, there might’ve been one. We discussed this and other data points with Lisa DeLuca, director of artist relations at voter-engagement org Headcount, who before the election told us about how artist partnerships were mobilizing young voters. Turns out she was right.

Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved.
Thank you. Everybody who works with us should feel proud and feel part of this victory—more than 200,000 voters registered this year.

To be fully honest, when we had our last conversation, as I often do when discussing youth involvement in our elections, I found myself thinking, well, bless their hearts…
[Laughing] You know what, dude? Sometimes I felt that way, too.

But this election really was historic in terms of how young people not only showed up but stood in long lines and really committed to voting—and were a decisive factor in the outcome.
Yes. And the thing that I took away from it is that this generation of kids is really smart. They’re doing their own research, forming their own positions, and they understand that if they want what they think and feel to be part of the political conversation, they have to get out there and make their voices heard. What we do at Headcount is directed to that. We don’t try and get in anybody’s head about what they should care about or what or whom they should vote for. It’s pure education on our end: This is your civic duty and responsibility. If you want to effect change, this is what you have to do. That’s our only message. And I feel that that’s what this generation of young people wants. They don’t want anybody forcing anything down their throats, because they’re smart enough to make their own decisions.

They took a ball and ran with it.
Exactly, and that really gives me hope.

A lot of post-election analysis has centered on younger voters getting involved because of Roe v. Wade and to some extent student-loan forgiveness. What do you think was top of mind in terms of issues and concerns for this bloc of voters?
When we talked last time, I told you there was a different energy happening post-Roe v. Wade. It was an issue that people had a lot of passion about. So they voted about it, especially young people. I think a lot of the polling that’s coming out now—and obviously it’s still very early, and there will be a ton more information coming out—is telling us that people are concerned about the state of democracy. That goes back to what I was talking about before: They’re doing their research. They see the writing on the wall and they’re saying, “I don’t like this, and I want to do something about it.” I think our democratic institutions sometimes seem shaky. They saw that and thought it was important to preserve what our country is about.

I do think the economy was a huge issue. Again, they did their research and voted accordingly. In some states it went red and in some states it went blue—it’s not one size fits all.

Of the data you’ve seen and the anecdotal testimony you’ve read, what has surprised you the most?
I don’t want to say I’m surprised; as I said, we’ve been working with young people this entire election cycle and have seen how engaged they are. But the level of energy surprised me a little bit. I don’t like to get my hopes up too much about anything; this stuff is so unpredictable. But I was a little surprised by how passionate the young people were to get out there and do it.

How are you beginning to focus the conversation and outreach as you look at 2024?
We’re in the process of figuring that out. We obviously just got through the election, and we’re doing tons of postmortems right now.

We’ve had some amazing artist partners this year. Harry Styles alone—there were 54,000 voter registrations from his contest. That’s a massive number. Elections in some states were decided by much less than that. His team, especially Full Stop Management, have been the most amazing partners. [Manager] Tommy Bruce has been in lockstep with us this entire cycle to make sure we’re being super-effective. We’re doing the Lizzo tour right now, which has also been very effective. Lizzo posted on her social media about our volunteer system. She talks about it every night at her show, how she has people at the tables.

Those smart, strategic artist partners always leaning in—I want to focus even more on that in ’23 and ’24: finding those big champions who are really able to speak to this young generation. It’s not pushy; it’s not annoying. It’s just, “This is important to me, and I hope it’s also important to you.” And that worked this time around.

As the impact of the youth vote begins to really register, some politicians who don’t like the results are talking about trying to pass laws to raise the voting age. How might you respond to that?
Headcount is a completely nonpartisan organization, but we are absolutely committed to democratic institutions staying viable. I hope that [attempt to raise the voting age] doesn’t really become an issue. Everybody deserves the right to vote. That’s something that we should always be trying to expand, not restrict. But if it does become an issue, we’ll address it head-on and make sure people know what their rights are, as we do now.