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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Preliminary CIRCLE Projection: Youth Voter Turnout Up

November 5th, 2008
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About 22-24 Million Young Americans Go to the Polls:
Up by at Least 2.2 Million from 2004

Young voters favor Obama over McCain 66% to 32%; 18% of all voters were young

Conference Call-in Press Briefing to Discuss 2008 Youth Vote, 2 PM ET, Nov. 5
The dial-in number for the call is 877-844-6052 (no access code needed)

Medford/Somerville, MA – Preliminary CIRCLE projections show the turnout for young Americans (ages 18-29) is higher than in 2004, a year of significant increase, and is much higher than it was in 2000 and 1996.

CIRCLE estimates youth voting after elections based on several variables, including the total number of ballots counted. Currently, the actual turnout estimate is unclear because of precincts that have not reported and the significant number of Americans who voted absentee; these votes will not be fully counted for some time, affecting the total number of ballots counted.  At 12 pm on Nov 5th, about 120 million votes had been counted, but many states are far from reporting 100% of precincts. CIRCLE’s preliminary estimates are based on a range of possible vote counts, from a 120 million to 133 million.

An estimated 21.6 million-23.9 million young Americans voted in Tuesday’s presidential election, an increase of at least 2.2 million compared with 2004, according to national exit polls, demographic data, and projections of total numbers of votes cast. CIRCLE projects the youth voter turnout will be between 49.3% and 54.5%, an increase of 1 to 6 percentage points over CIRCLE’s estimate based on the 2004 exit polls.  The 2004 election was a strong one for youth turnout, reversing a long history of decline. If we compare 2008 with 2000, the increase in youth turnout is between 8 and 13 percentage points. CIRCLE will replace projections with actual vote counts once most precincts have reported, including absentee ballots. Depending on the final vote tally, this year’s youth turnout could be the second highest since 1972 (55.4%).

“From a nonpartisan perspective, it is heartening to see young people so motivated and engaged in a national election,” said CIRCLE director Peter Levine. “Young Americans are also involved in community service at record rates. We must build on the momentum from this election to find ways to keep them civically engaged. It is also critical that those who did not vote for Barack Obama, or who did not vote at all, will feel included in politics, government and community affairs.”

Young voters favored the winner of this election by more than a two-to-one margin, forming a major part of the winning coalition. Overall, voters chose Obama over McCain by a much narrower margin of about 52% to 46%. This gap in presidential choice by age is unprecedented. The average gap from 1976 through 2004 was only 1.8 percentage points, as young voters basically supported the same candidate as older voters in most elections.

“Turnout” means the percentage of eligible citizens who voted, and youth voter turnout is the percentage of eligible 18-29 year olds who voted. CIRCLE’s final estimate will be based on the National Exit Polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky, the number of ballots cast in the United States (aggregated from data provided by local election officials), and current Census data on the number of young citizens in the United States. CIRCLE has used precisely the same method to estimate youth turnout after previous elections since 1996. Using this consistent method, we estimate the following trend:

Year Youth turnout estimated by CIRCLE using exit poll data Percentage point change since previous election Number of young people who voted (based on national exit polls and day-after counts of ballots)
1996 37% 14.5 million
2000 41% +4 16.2 million
2004 48% +7 19.4 million
2008 To be announced later To be announced later To be announced later

There is no official count of voters by age. Therefore, any statistic on youth voter turnout is an estimate based on survey data. Like any survey, the National Exit Polls use methods that may introduce sampling bias. However, our estimates of youth turnout from the National Exit Polls (shown above) have produced a trend that closely tracks the trend in the Census Current Population Survey (CPS), which is the other reliable source for estimating youth turnout. CPS voting data for 2008 will not be available until spring 2009. Until then, our method produces the only reliable estimate of youth turnout.

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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  3. Online Activism and Civic Participation « Leading a double life in London Says:

    […] This article summarises his online success with today’s youth, and also mentions university websites that are being used for civic participation and education. […]

  4. Vanesa Salvador Says:

    It is nice that youth voters are increasing. There is a guarantee that the youth will be able to stand out and share all their concerns and opinions.

  5. What impact: Obama's online campaign on youth voter turnount? | Hotwire Blog Says:

    […] conducts research on the civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25. Preliminary CIRCLE projections show the turnout for young Americans (ages 18-29) is higher than in 2004, a year of significant […]