CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Virginia Youth Voter Turnout Doubled between 2009 and 2017, Estimates Suggest

November 8th, 2017
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In what could be an early indicator of young people’s political engagement and mobilization after the contentious 2016 presidential race—and ahead of the 2018 midterms—youth turnout surged in Virginia, and in both gubernatorial races young people strongly preferred the Democratic candidates.

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 34% in Virginia and 18% in New Jersey, according to CIRCLE’s calculations.[1] These turnout estimates are based on CIRCLE analysis of Edison Research exit polls conducted in both states with Census population data. While it’s important to note that, in recent elections, exit polls have not always captured accurate age demographics and preliminary exit poll results are subject to revision, CIRCLE’s turnout estimates are based on the best available data.

Those turnout rates translate to roughly 222,000 young people casting ballots in New Jersey and 366,000 youth voting in Virginia. In terms of young voters as a proportion of all people who cast ballots in each election (youth vote share), young people made up 11% of the electorate in New Jersey and 14% in Virginia.

The 18% youth turnout in New Jersey equaled the 2013 rate and follows a very stable trend in New Jersey youth turnout, which has hovered just below 20% in the past three off-year elections. Meanwhile, Virginia’s 34% youth turnout is 8 percentage points higher than in 2013 (26%)—and double what it was in 2009 (17%)


According to the exit polls, almost three quarters (73%) of youth in New Jersey voted for Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who won the election by 55% to 43%. In Virginia, 69% of young people supported Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, who won 54% to 45%.[2] Youth made up 18% of Northam’s votes, the same proportion as those 65+, while only 9% of Gillespie’s votes.

These estimates represent significant jumps in youth mobilization and/or support for the Democratic candidates. In 2013, by contrast,  Virginia Governor McAuliffe received just 45% of votes from 18 to 29-year-olds, with 40% going to Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and 15% to Libertarian Robert Sarvis. In the 2013 New Jersey election, young people roughly split their votes, with Barbara Buono (D) receiving 51% of youth votes, and Governor Chris Christie (R) getting 49%.

[1] The estimated percent of young people who voted in the governor’s’ 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 Media Research for the National Election Pool, (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 4 percentage points.

[2] Candidate support among youth can differ greatly by demographic subgroups, but that data is not public for age by race, age by education, etc.

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