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|
|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.