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

Millennials are on Par with Boomers in Voter Turnout

October 29th, 2012
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In the United States, older people vote at higher rates than under-30s. The likelihood that an individual will vote rises with age. Therefore, if you graph the turnout of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1965) and Millennials (born after 1979) by year, you will see a clear gap that favors the Boomers:

CIRCLE generated the above graph at the request of New York Times reporter Michael Winerip, and it is included in his story today. But Winerip also asked us a different question: How does today’s youth voting compare to the Boomers’ voting when the Boomers were young? To answer that question, we generated a different graph. This one shows the turnout rate for the two generations in their first election, their second election, and so on:

It shows that the Millennials are just where the Boomers were when they were at the same age. Winerip writes:

When boomers were [young], they voted at almost the exact rate that the young do now.

In 1976, when boomers were between 18 and 30 years old, their turnout rate was 50 percent. In 2008, 51 percent of millennials — ages 18 to 28 at the time — voted.

And in 1972, when boomers had many incentives to go to the polls, including the Vietnam-era draft, the numbers still weren’t too different. A total of 54 percent of boomers voted in the Nixon-McGovern election, versus 49 percent of millennials in the 2004 Bush-Kerry race.

Even Peter Levine, an expert on young American voting patterns who compiled these statistics at my request, was surprised at the results he produced.“I would have guessed there’s more of a youth voting problem today,” he said. As the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a nonpartisan research institute based at Tufts University, he specializes in civic issues affecting young people.

“The fact that they’re right on par surprised me,” he said. “There’s a lot of rhetoric about back in the day. I’m delighted.”

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.

One Response to “Millennials are on Par with Boomers in Voter Turnout”

  1. L Henry Pratt Says:

    Really fascinating information. In looking at the years of the first presidential election, in 1972 young people had the option of voting for George McGovern, clearly a candidate whose message resonated with that age group. By 1976, there was probably less enthusiasm for a Carter/Ford election.

    In 2004, Kerry was perhaps a less inspiring candidate against an incumbent president. By 2008, Obama was successful in providing young people with a message that resonated.

    This data suggests the importance of the message for increasing youth turnout. I wonder what 2012 will look like on this chart, when neither candidate has given young people a real message worthy of their support.

    I would be curious to see if there is a similar result in off year elections.

    Thanks for the useful info.