CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

African American Youth: Political Engagement Trends

October 10th, 2014
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In the past three election cycles (2008, 2010, 2012), young African Americans turned out to vote at a higher rate than youth of any other racial or ethnic group.

That’s one of the primary takeaways from our recently released fact sheet on the voting and political engagement trends of African American youth (ages 18-29), one of three facts sheets on electoral participation by youth of different racial and ethnic groups. The fact sheets include findings about patterns of engagement and recommendations for increased engagement.

Those top turnout rates for African American youth—58.2% and 53.7% in 2008 and 2012; 27.5% in the 2010 midterms— are likely evidence of the “Obama effect,” which drove young Black men and women to the polls at the highest rate in the last 40 years. That effect also drove African American youth to register to vote. Black youth increased their registration rate by almost six percentage points (46.2% to 51.9%) between 2006 and 2010, and their voter registration rate of 62.4% for the 2012 election was the highest of any racial or ethnic group of young people.

We call people who are registered but then do not vote “under-mobilized” (because often no one asked them to vote even though they had registered.) As shown in the figure below, young African Americans are significantly more likely to be under-mobilized in 2010 than their peers of other ethnic backgrounds. That analysis also shows some promising aspects of African American youth’s civic engagement: they’re the second most likely group, after young Whites, to be broadly engaged; and the second least likely group, after young Whites, to be civically alienated.

Additional findings and recommendations include:

  • Gender matters: 37% of young Black men consider themselves “conservative,” compared with 18% of young Black women. Campaigns and organizations must understand these differences.
  • Nearly one fourth of registered African American youth said they did not vote in 2012 because of busy or conflicting work schedules. It is especially vital to encourage making a plan to vote, promote early voting, mail-in voting, and absentee voting among this group.
  • In 2012, more than one fourth of young African Americans said they missed the registration deadline or did not know where to register. The rates are similar across all racial and ethnic groups, and points to the importance of providing all youth with timely, accurate information about voter registration.

Read the full fact sheet on Electoral Engagement among Young African Americans, and see the related fact sheets for Asian American and Latino youth.

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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