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Youth Turnout Rate Rises to at Least 52%

November 7th, 2008
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Youth Turnout Rate Rises to at Least 52% with 23 Million Voters Under 30

3.4 Million More Young People Vote than in 2004
Young Voters Account for at Least 60% of Overall Increase

18% of All Voters Were Young

Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Medford, MA – An estimated 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s presidential election, an increase of 3.4 million compared with 2004, CIRCLE reports, using overall vote count projections by Curtis Gans, director of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, latest exit polls, and Census Current Population Survey. This is an update of data released on November 5th by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which is the nation’s premier research organization on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.

CIRCLE estimates that youth voter turnout rose to between 52 percent and 53 percent, an increase of 4 to 5 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 at least 11 percentage points. This year’s youth turnout rivals or exceeds the youth turnout rate of 52% in 1992, which is the highest turnout rate since 1972 (55.4%).

“Young Americans went to the polls in record numbers, showing they are an influential voting bloc in American politics. This reflects their deep concern about the critical issues at stake and the impact of this election on our country’s future,” said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, based at Tuft’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. “We must build on the momentum from this election to motivate all young people to get involved in politics, government and their community. It is also critical that our communities, government and institutions capitalize on this opportunity to engage young people by expanding civic opportunities for young Americans.”

Young voters favored the winner of this election by more than 2-1, forming a major part of the winning coalition. Overall, voters chose Obama over McCain by a much narrower margin of about 53% to 46%. This gap in presidential choice by age is unprecedented. The average age-gap in support for the Democratic candidate from 1976 through 2004 was only 1.8 percentage points, as young voters basically supported the same candidate as older voters in most elections.

Young people (ages 18-29) represented 18 percent of the voters in Tuesday’s election, according to the National Exit Polls (NEP) conducted by Edison/Mitofsky. This is one point higher than in 1996, 2000 and 2004, when young voters represented 17 percent of voters in each presidential election, according to the NEP.

The increase in youth share and turnout are substantial, especially in contrast to the projection that overall voter turnout will either stay the same or increase by one percentage point. According to CIRCLE’s calculation, the increase in youth votes accounts for at least 60% of the overall increase in the number of votes, suggesting that this year’s election mobilized young people more than any other age groups.

“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 is based on the National Exit Polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky, the overall vote count projected by Curtis Gans, and current Census data on the number of young citizens in the United States. Previously CIRCLE’s estimate has used the number of aggregated ballots cast provided by local election officials. CIRCLE has made this change due to the number of Americans who voted absentee in 2008. CIRCLE’s estimates follow this trend:

Year Youth Voter Turnout Estimated by CIRCLE Percentage point change since previous election Number of young people who voted
1996 37%   14.5 million1
2000 41% +4 16.2 million1
2004 48% +7 19.4 million1
2008 52-53% +4-5 22.8 – 23.1 million2

1 The estimated number of young people who voted in 1996, 2000 and 2004 were calculated using the number of ballots cast in the United States (aggregated from data provided by local election officials) and the youth share of those who voted, as reported by exit polls.

2 The estimated number of young people who voted in 2008 was calculated using a projection of the total number of ballots cast in the United States and the youth share of those who voted, as reported by exit polls.

CIRCLE estimated comparative turnout in states that were heavily campaigned by both candidates (CO, FL, IA, IN, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA and WI), and all other states for youth and all ages combined. According to CIRCLE’s estimation using aggregated counts of votes from each of these states, youth turnout in the heavily campaigned states was especially strong at 59%, compared with 47% for all other states combined. Using the same method, overall turnout in these heavily campaigned states was also high at 69%, compared with 56% for all other states combined. Based on these statistics, it can be inferred that young voters responded to various campaigning efforts in these states by casting their ballots at much higher rates than young people in other states.

CIRCLE also used CNN’s list of seven “battleground” states, which were projected to have close Presidential races (FL, IN, MO, MT, OH, NC and ND). Fifty-two percent of young people in these seven states voted, compared with 50% of youth in all other states. Overall turnout was 60% for these battleground states, compared with 61% for all the non-battleground states combined. The closeness of the race in a state did not seem to affect turnout there.

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, CIRCLE’s 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.

247 Responses to “Youth Turnout Rate Rises to at Least 52%”

  1. back ache Says:

    I think it sad to think we get excited about a turnout rate of 50% and think that is improvement. Why people don’t take a more active role in government by voting

  2. Closet Organizer System Says:

    @back ache,

    As if voting makes any sort of difference when the people elected do not care about the people they are elected to represent. Most politicians are just concerned with serving their corporate donor interest….then getting re-elected to do so again.

  3. speed dating nyc Says:

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  4. Rus-women.com Says:

    The youth now has no inteligence.
    thanx for the job you’ve done!

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  6. Cerita Nakal Says:

    very usefull

  7. Medyum Says:

    very usefull

  8. Basketball Coaching Says:

    Holy cow. New stuff I didn’t know.

  9. baby Says:

    young voters responded to various campaigning efforts in these states by casting their ballots at much higher rates than young people in other states.

  10. Freelance SEO Says:

    The increase in youth share and turnout are substantial, especially in contrast to the projection that overall voter turnout will either stay the same or increase by one percentage point.

  11. Insomnia Says:

    people are becoming more conscious about their roles in the society and begin acting like real citizens, it’s so nice to learn about these changes for the better

  12. Acai Says:

    Find out the reason of why turnout rate rises..

  13. Chicago Speed Dating Says:

    How true… thanks for sharing with everyone.

  14. Genital Warts Wartrol Says:

    I really believe part of the increasing numbers started way back in the early 90’s with Rock The Vote on Mtv. I’ve always thanked them for their movement towards educating young voters.

  15. Adiane Panganiban Says:

    At least there is an increase and there is an improvement. It is important that the youth will be able to share all their thoughts and concerns.

  16. Carol Says:

    So that means that we are now the tomorrow and are the key to success. I wish that we will just make and follow the things that we think are right.

  17. xbox live code Says:

    At least there is an increase and there is an improvement. It is important that the youth will be able to share all their thoughts and concerns.

  18. The youth Democratic surge that wasn’t | Social Capital Blog Says:

    […] On this score, the 20.4% of eligible youth who turned out in 2010, was markedly lower than the 52% who voted in 2010. This is probably an unfair test, since turnout is always higher in presidential elections.  But […]

  19. Security Direct Says:

    Excellent post, great to see the youth share your concerns.

  20. London Security Says:

    Its a real shame that nowadays young people do not care about politics, especially when it effects them in many ways. Great article

  21. Facebook Tagging Pictures Says:

    @London Security .. Young people nowadays don’t care about anything but Entertainment not just Politics. They have no problem destroying their health, wasting their time, losing their heads over what they call “Cool Stuff”!

  22. logo design Says:

    Great to see the young people in politics Everyone must vote. when you proactively go out and do it. It means you know something. you state your opinion. Quite a different post Very Interesting!

  23. bird feeders Says:

    50+ percent — not bad! I would have imagined it to be much lower.

  24. BreakThru Radio Says:

    […] this past November. That's a definite decline from the 2008 presidential elections, where more than 33 million young people (or 51 percent) came out to vote. It's still almost a quarter of eligible youth who voted for a […]

  25. Brindes Promocionais Says:

    Its a real shame that nowadays young people do not care about politics, especially when it effects them in many ways. Great article

  26. Trident Military University Says:

    Great to see younger people vote. After all they are the future and it’s important that they participate in the political process. I’ve also been seeing a lot of campaigs, such as on Mtv, encouraging young folks to vote.

  27. Turnstyle » Red, White And Beyonce Says:

    […] of Obama’s success in 2008 to the rallying of young Americans to voting stations. According to CIRCLE, 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in the presidential election, with 66% in […]

  28. Trident University Says:

    Young people are voting because politics are not only affecting their college and tuition issues but many graduates are unable to find jobs once they do graduate. I think that is a major reason why we are seeing more youth participation politically.

  29. Voting Is a Feminist Issue! Says:

    […] are frequently won by tiny margins and the mobilization of students-especially young women-has the potential to change the political landscape drastically. Young people, especially young women, have important rights at stake in this 2010 midterm […]

  30. hd7546 Says:

    What about the percentage of the overall population that the youth cohort represented in each of these cycles? Correct me if I’m wrong, but all that is measured here is the percentage of all voters that are below 30 years of age. That doesn’t tell us whether that cohort actually turned out in greater percentages compared to prior cycles. For example, in 1972 the cohort under 30 was measuring the huge baby boom cohort. If the 2008 youth cohort is a smaller percentage of the overall population than the boomers were, then their percentage turnout may actually be higher than the boomers in 1972.

  31. Business Consulting Toronto Says:

    it is very encouraging that the youth turnout rate has increased to this level. Hopefully it will rise even more in the next election.

  32. Singapore Sports and Orthopaedic Clinic Says:

    As nowadays youth are very easily influence by the online debates and soon they are going to be the core voters. It will be good to actually educate them more and have more exposure to politician

  33. Pattaya Thailand Says:

    It’s interesting when seeing the statistic like this. I think there is no young records in politics in my country.

  34. Shana Burg » Blog Archive » The Power of Youth Says:

    […] The participation of young people made a critical difference in the outcome of the recent presidential election. CIRCLE, The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, reports: […]

  35. Youth Vote in A… | praterem Says:

    […] University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) estimates that 52 percent to 53 percent of eligible voters under the age of 30 went to the polls in 2008. […]

  36. New Voter ID Laws Suck For College Students The Most Says:

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  40. New ID Laws May Shoot Down College-Student Voters | Political Ration Says:

    […] 2008, youth voter turnout was higher that it had been since Vietnam, and overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. This time around, […]

  41. Occupy Your State » New ID Laws May Shoot Down College-Student Voters Says:

    […] driver's licenses, which means out-of-state students may be turned away at the polls. In 2008, youth voter turnout was higher that it had been since Vietnam, and overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. This time around, […]

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  43. New ID Laws May Shoot Down College-Student Voters | Screw Cable Says:

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  44. The young and the disenfranchised | Scholars and Rogues Says:

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  45. SCOTUS for Students Says:

    […] this is an issue you should care about. The youth vote will be critical in November, and with turnouts high, campaigns are intent on securing your vote. But many voter ID laws specifically exclude college […]

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  47. Young People and the US Presidential Election Says:

    […] CIRCLE (the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) have estimated the youth turnout (18-29 year olds) in this year’s Presidential election is at least 52% with 23 million voters under 30. This means there was an increase of 3.4 million […]