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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Youth Voting

The 2016 Youth VoteThe 2014 Youth Vote | The 2012 Youth Vote | Why Youth Voting Matters | What Affects Youth Voting | What Works in Getting Youth to Vote | Resources

The 2016 Youth Vote

CIRCLE’s exclusive 2016 Youth Electoral Significance Index is a data-based rankinga of the states and districts where young voters (ages 18-29) have the most potential to impact the 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections.

YESI Slide

CIRCLE’s 2016 Election Center contains our most important data and analysis related to youth and the 2016 presidential election, as well as additional resources such as data maps.

The 2014 Youth Vote

  • 19.9 percent of 18- to 29-years old cast ballots in the 2014 elections. That was the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded in a federal election. See CIRCLE’s analysis here.
  • Overall, young voters in 2014 favored Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans. For example, according to the national exit poll data on House races, youth aged 18-29 preferred Democratic candidates by 55% to 42%. Young voters also backed Democratic candidates in most Senate races. Read our analysis of youth vote choice here.

The 2012 Youth Vote

  • 45% of young people, ages 18-29, voted in 2012, down from 51% in 2008. Read the detailed analysis of the youth vote here.
  • In states with sufficient samples, youth turnout in 2012 was highest in Mississippi (68.1%), Wisconsin (58.0%), Minnesota (57.7%) and Iowa (57.1%). Voter turnout in 2012 was lowest in West Virginia (23.6%), Oklahoma (27.1%), Texas (29.6%), and Arkansas (30.4%). Learn about the youth vote in your state here.
  • There were differences in the youth vote by gender and marital status. In 2012, 41.1% of single young men turned out, compared to 48.3% of young single females. In 2012, nearly 52.5% of young married females voted, compared to 48.5% of married men. Find more detailed analysis of the youth vote by gender and marital status here.
  • The youth vote varied greatly by gender and race. Young Black and Hispanic women were the strongest supporters of President Obama. Read more on the youth vote by race and gender here.
  • Although 60% of U.S. Citizens between the ages of 18-29 have enrolled in college, 71% of young voters have attended college, meaning that college-educated young people were overrepresented among young people who voted. Learn about the youth vote by educational attainment here.
  • In 2012, young voters 18-29 chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, 60% to 37% – a 23 point margin, according to National Exit Polls. See more information about youth party identification and issue interests here.

Why Youth Voting Matters

  • Voting is habit-forming: when young people learn the voting process and vote they are more likely to do so when they are older. If individuals have been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to return. So, getting young people to vote early could be key to raising a new generation of voters.
  • Young people are a major subset of the electorate and their voices matter:
    • 46 million young people ages 18-29 years old are eligible to vote, while 39 million seniors are eligible to vote
    • Young people (18-29) make up 21% of the voting eligible population in the U.S.
  • Young people’s participation can influence election results.
  • Involving young people in election-related learning, activities and discussion can have an impact on the young person’s household, increasing the likelihood that others in the household will vote. In immigrant communities, young voters may be easier to reach, are more likely to speak English (cutting down translation costs), and may be the most effective messengers within their communities.

And there are major differences in voter turnout amongst youth subgroups, which may persist as these youth get older if the gaps are not reduced.

What Affects Youth Voting

  • Contact! Young people who are contacted by an organization or a campaign are more likely to vote. Additionally, those who discuss an election are more likely to vote in it.
  • Young people who are registered to vote turn out in high numbers, very close to the rate of older voters. In the 2008 election, 84% of those youth 18-29 who were registered to vote actually cast a ballot. Youth voter registration rates are much lower than older age groups’ rates, and as a result, guiding youth through the registration process is one potential step to closing the age-related voting gap.
  • Having information about how, when and where to vote can help young people be and feel prepared to vote as well as reduce any level of intimidation they may feel.
  • A state’s laws related to voter registration and voting can have an impact on youth voter turnout. Seven out of the top 10 youth turnout states had some of the more ambitious measures, including Election Day registration, voting by mail (Oregon), or not requiring registration to vote (North Dakota).

In 2008, on average, 59% of young Americans whose home state offered Election Day Registration voted; nine percentage points higher than those who did not live in EDR states. For more on state voting laws see: “Easier Voting Methods Boost Youth Turnout“; How Postregistration Laws Affect the Turnout of Registrants; State Voting Laws and State Election Law Reform and Youth Voter Turnout .

  • Civic education opportunities in school have been shown to increase the likelihood that a young person will vote. These opportunities range from social studies classes to simulations of democratic processes and discussion of current issues. Unfortunately, many youth do not have these civic education opportunities, as research has shown that those in more white and/or more affluent schools are more likely to have these opportunities.
  • A young person’s home environment can have a large impact on their engagement. Youth who live in a place where members of their household are engaged and vote are more likely to do so themselves.

What Works in Getting Youth to Vote

  • Registration is sometimes a larger hurdle than the act of voting itself. Thus showing young people where to get reliable information on registration is helpful.
  • Personalized and interactive contact counts. The most effective way of getting a new voter is the in-person door-knock by a peer; the least effective is an automated phone call.
    • The medium is more important than the message. Partisan and nonpartisan, negative and positive messages seem to work about the same. The important factor is the degree to which the contact is personalized.
    • Canvassing costs $11 to $14 per new vote, followed closely by phone banks at $10 to $25 per new vote. Robocalls mobilize so few voters that they cost $275 per new vote. (These costs are figured per vote that would not be cast without the mobilizing effort).



A voter turnout time series for 1972-2012 (Excel spreadsheet)


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For more information on youth voting:

Last Updated: 11/110/2014




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.