CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
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2014 Midterms: Why (Some) Registered Youth Don’t Vote

June 25th, 2014
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As we have learned from so many of our partners, electoral and youth engagement is ongoing work, which requires off-year program assessment, field planning, resource development, constituency building and many other activities. A major piece of this ongoing work, and of the U.S. electoral system, is voter registration. Over the next two weeks, as we continue looking forward to the upcoming midterm election, we’ll be presenting youth voter registration data from 2010, the most recent comparable election to this year’s electoral contest.

When it comes to youth political engagement, especially in midterm elections, getting youth to register is only half the battle, as registered voters aged 18-29 are less likely to cast ballots in midterm cycles than in presidential contests.

That is one of the takeaways from our latest fact sheet on young people’s registration and turnout rates in midterm elections. This analysis by CIRCLE Deputy Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg explores these facets of youth electoral engagement with particular focus on the 2010 contest, the election most comparable to the upcoming 2014 midterm.

Youth registration rates in midterm elections have dropped in the past 12 years, from 56% (the highest since 1974) in the 2002 contest, to 49% in the 2010 midterm. By contrast, in the 2012 presidential election, the registration rate for young people was 58%. When it comes to turnout among young registered voters, the gap between presidential and midterm cycles is significantly wider: almost four out of five registered youth voted in 2012, but slightly less than half did so in the 2010 midterm election.

Many factors likely contribute to this difference in youth turnout rate: a relative lack of media attention, a scarcity of competitive races, and less voter outreach. The brief includes Census data from the 2010 midterm, which point to several differences in why young people and adults over 30 who are registered do not cast a ballot.

Some gaps point to ways in which youth political engagement can be strengthened. More than twice as many young people said that they did not vote because of “registration problems” like not receiving an absentee ballot or not being registered in the right location. This may reflect that many are first-time voters who are less familiar with the process, particularly if they moved for school or work and had to adjust their registration accordingly. Measures that simplify the registration, address change and voting process could help reduce that gap; they could also help reduce the 10% who said they simply forgot to cast their ballot.

The biggest reason cited by registered youth who did not vote in 2010 was that it conflicted with their work. One third of all registered but non-voting youth said so, while only a quarter of those over 30 gave that response, which may indicate that youth generally have lower-level jobs with less flexibility to take time off on Election Day. Measures like early voting could be instrumental in ensuring that youth have time to go to the polls and increasing their voter turnout.

Read the full fact sheet on youth voter registration in midterm elections. In the coming weeks, we will publish further analysis of these data and what it might mean for the upcoming 2014 contest.

Find information about youth voter registration in your state by checking out our interactive youth voting map, where double-clicking on your state will access a state-specific fact sheet. An overview of youth voting can be found here.

Find more analysis in our 2016 Election Center. For regular updates in your Inbox about youth and the 2016 election, sign up for CIRCLE's monthly E-Update here.

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