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

Massachusetts Senate Election: Youth Turnout Was Just 15%, Compared to 57% for Older Citizens; Young Voters Favored Coakley

January 20th, 2010
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Interviews with Experts Available; Contact David Roscow at
703-276-2772 x21 or dave@tricomassociates.com

Tisch College, Medford/Somerville, Mass
– In the special election for Massachusetts Senator, young voters (age 18-29) preferred Democrat Martha Coakley over Republican Scott Brown by 58%-40% (with 2% for other candidates), according to a survey of 1,000 voters conducted on January 19, by Rasmussen Reports.

About 15% of Massachusetts citizens between the ages of 18-29 turned out to vote.* For citizens age 30 and older, turnout was about 57%.

For comparison: 25% of young citizens (age 18-29) voted in the 2008 Massachusetts presidential primaries, and 47.8% of young Massachusetts citizens voted in the 2008 presidential elections, according to CIRCLE’s analysis. Seventy-eight percent of under-30 voters in Massachusetts chose Barack Obama in the 2008 general election; 20% chose John McCain.

While national youth turnout was very strong in 2008 (when 52% of young American citizens voted), youth turnout in the 2009 Virginia and New Jersey Gubernatorial races was poor (17% and 19%, respectively), and even lower in Massachusetts this Tuesday. “Three state elections do not necessarily make a national trend, but there is clearly an issue right now with youth turnout and enthusiasm,” said CIRCLE director Peter Levine. “It will be interesting to see the turnout of young voters in November’s mid-term elections.”

According to the Rasmussen survey, most young people who did vote were enthusiastic about Coakley: 89% of her young supporters said they voted for her, not against Scott Brown; and 43% were “very favorable” toward her. Their most important issue was the economy, whereas for voters overall, the number one issue was health care.

Of those Massachusetts voters who said that health care was the most important issue in the Senate campaign (56%), 86% opposed the Democrats’ plan. That was probably one contributor to Scott Brown’s victory. But young voters favored the health care plan, 55%-40%.

Young voters were less likely to be “strong” supporters of President Obama than Massachusetts voters overall (30% of youth versus 35% of all voters), but they were more likely to support him at least “somewhat.” (Sixty-seven percent support the president somewhat or strongly).

* To estimate the turnout of young people who voted in the 2010 Massachusetts Senate Special Election, CIRCLE used the following data sources: (1) the number of ballots cast in the Sentate Special Election according to the New York Times (2) the youth share of those who voted, as reported by Rasmussen’s survey of people who said that they voted, and (3) the estimated number of 18-29 year old citizens taken from the  2009 Census Current Population Survey, December File.

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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