If the Virginia and New Jersey exit polls captured precise and accurate estimates of the proportion of voters who were young, then youth turnout was 26% in Virginia and 18% in New Jersey, according to CIRCLE’s calculations.* In recent elections, exit polls have not always captured accurate age demographics. Also, the preliminary exit poll results reported on Election Day are subject to revision. However, CIRCLE’s turnout estimates are based on the best available data.
Using the same methods, we calculated that youth turnout in Virginia was 17% in 2009 and 18% in 1997, and in New Jersey 26% in 1997 and 19% in 2009. That suggests a significant rise in Virginia this year.
Table 1: Turnout in Gubernatorial Elections, ages 18-29*
These turnout estimates would translate to roughly 288,000 young voters who cast a ballot yesterday in Virginia, out of the estimated 1.1 million 18-29 year-old citizens who live in that state. In New Jersey, roughly 206,000 young voters cast a ballot out of the estimated 1.2 million 18-29 year old citizens.
According to the exit poll, 45% of young people voted for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe yesterday in Virginia, 40% for Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and 15% for Libertarian Robert Sarvis. In New Jersey, a small majority of young people (51%) voted for Democratic Candidate Barbara Buono but 49% supported incumbent Governor Chris Christie.
As a proportion of all the people who voted, in 2013, under-30s represented 13% in Virginia, which reflects a modest increase from 2009, when they made up 10% of all voters. In New Jersey, under-30s represented 10% of voters, which is very similar to the youth share of 9% in 2009. (The share of voters is not an accurate measure of youth turnout. “Turnout” is the proportion of all young citizens who voted, shown above.)
“Although 18% and 26% are far from satisfactory, these statistics should be put in context,” said CIRCLE Director Peter Levine. “Turnout is always much lower in off-year gubernatorial elections than in presidential years. The best available evidence on Virginia’s youth turnout suggests an increase compared to the two most recent gubernatorial races there. Virginia is also interesting in that Barack Obama won the state’s youth vote easily, but Democrat Terry McAuliffe got less than half of youth, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis ran relatively strong at 15%.”
* The estimated numbers of young people who voted in the 1997 and 2009 governors’ races were calculated using: (1) the number of ballots cast in each race according to the media, (2) the youth share of those who voted, based on the exit polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool, and (3) the estimated number of 18-29 year old citizens taken from the Census Current Population Survey, March Demographic File of that year. Edison Research estimates that its exit polls have a margin of error rate of plus or minus three percentage points.