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

No Clear Difference in Candidate Preference or Party Affiliation by Educational Experience; Youth with No College Experience Less Knowledgeable about State Voting Laws

August 3rd, 2012
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Poll Findings Comparing Youth with College Experience and Those Without

Findings from a recent poll commissioned by the Youth Engagement Fund, and analyzed by CIRCLE suggest that overall non-college youth do not vary significantly from their college experienced counterparts.  However there are some slight differences.  This analysis is part of  CIRCLE’s   #YouthTruth campaign. The national toplines can be found here.

Current data from our national poll of young Americans show that non-college youth, those with no college experience, are more likely than their college experience peers to be:

  • Hispanic– 21.3% compared to 13.1%.
  • Male – 53.4% compared to 45.9%
  • Not working – 32.9% compared to 16.6%

They were more likely than their college peers to indicate that the cost of college prevented them from getting the college education they wanted (32.0% compared to 22.4%).  Even more striking, is that 29.2% of non-college youth didn’t intend to go to college.


Non-college youth are also more disengaged from voting and important policy issues.  While 59.3% of non-college youth indicated they were registered to vote, this is over 20 percentage points lower than their college peers. Depending on the formulation of the question, non-college youth indicate they are 15 to 23 percentage points less likely to vote in the upcoming election than their college peers. They are also less likely to see voting as a responsibility of citizenship (22.6%) than their college counterparts (37.8%). However, non-college youth are much more likely (47.4%) to be in the 18 to 21 year old age range (first, time voters) than their college peers (28.7%), which may account for some of these difference.

Young voters with no college experience are unsure about the state laws

Overall, non-college experience young voters lagged behind their peers in their overall knowledge or efficacy about the state laws.

  • Non-college youth were more likely to be unsure (51%) about the state ID law than their college peers (39%) and when they chose a response, they were less likely to be correct (26%) than their peers (36%).
  • Non-college youth were more likely to be unsure (57%) about the early voting law than their college peers (48%) but when they chose a response, they were 36% (37% correct among college).
  • In regards to the early registration rules, non-college voters were more likely to be unsure (65% compared to 58% among college peers) but they were about as likely to be correct if they chose an answer (19% vs. 22%).  However, it is clear that voters were least informed about the early registration requirements in general.

Key Policy Issues

When asked about important issues (i.e. voter ID laws, immigration laws, same sex marriage), non-college youth were 9  to 13 percentage points more likely to not know whether they supported or opposed legislation addressing these issues. This gap in knowledge makes it hard to know exactly how non-college youth might vote on key policy issues if there were more informed.

When non-college youth did differ from their college peers in opinion, they tended to skew conservative.  Below are responses by non-college youth and college youth to leading controversial policy issues.

Non-college College
Support Oppose Don’t Know Support Oppose Don’t Know
The Buffet Rule 46.2% 11.9% 41.8% 54.7% 16.1% 29.2%
Same Sex Marriage 42.1% 32.6% 25.4% 56.3% 29.0% 14.7%
Health care reform 24.3% 26.3% 49.4% 35.7% 19.1% 35.2%
Police must verify immigration status of people they stop 46.3% 25.1% 28.6% 49.7% 31.5% 18.8%
Allow illegal immigrants brought to US as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college 45.2% 21.9% 32.9% 53.5% 26.0% 20.5%

And while more non-college aged youth are without employment, they are less concerned with the economy than their college peers (35.3% compared to 41.7%).  They are also less likely to think that power is concentrated in the hands of the rich or large corporations (61.4% compared to 72.4%) and they are also more likely to not be sure about the issue (27.5% compared to 12.7%).  These differences are related to the overall lack of information that non-college youth have compared to their college peers.

Candidate Support and Ideological Grounding

And while their college peers were likely to have stronger ideological leanings either liberal or conservative, non-college youth were much more likely than their college peers to be moderate in their ideological leanings – 44.2% compared to 32.2%.  They also appear to have no clear candidate preference or party affiliation that is different than their college counterparts. However, in two leadership traits – getting things done and improving the economy – non-college youth were slightly less likely to associate these with Mitt Romney than college-experienced participants.

Institutional Support and Engagement

While 42.4% of non-college youth are not sure if the government is responsive to them, their college peers are much more likely to think the government is not responsive (51.7%) than those non-college youth who also think likewise (36.7%).

Non-college youth (34.8%) are also less likely than their college peers (41.7%) to be engaged in associations, issue oriented groups or other civically-engaged groups.


These are some of the results of a CIRCLE poll commissioned by the Youth Engagement Fund and conducted by Knowledge Networks. Knowledge Networks administers nationally representative surveys built on a random sample of households. Recruited households are given Internet access if needed. Between June 22 and July 2, 2012, Knowledge Networks surveyed 1,695 US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29. African Americans, Latinos, and individuals who have never attended college were oversampled, but unless otherwise noted, this press release reports nationally representative statistics. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.

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 “No Clear Difference in Candidate Preference or Party Affiliation by Educational Experience; Youth with No College Experience Less Knowledgeable about State Voting Laws”

  1. Gene Koo Says:

    I’m curious what kinds of groups are considered “civically-associated” for purposes of this survey. Are non-college youth participating in groups that aren’t traditionally considered “civic”?