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

Young People Dramatically Increase their Turnout to 31%, Shape 2018 Midterm Elections

November 7th, 2018
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CIRCLE is estimating today that roughly 31% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out to vote in the 2018 midterms, an extraordinary increase over our estimate in 2014, when our day-after exit poll calculation suggested that 21% of eligible young voters went to the polls. We estimate that this is by far the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter century—the last seven midterm elections during which we’ve been using this same calculation method. The 31% turnout estimate represents millions more young people casting votes in yesterday’s election, compared to who voted in 2014 according to our day-after estimate.

Youth voter turnout represents the proportion of all young citizens who cast ballots. You can read more about what youth turnout represents here, and how it compares to other data points available. There are several sources of voter turnout estimates, all of which have benefits and drawbacks. For example, some of the estimates depend on data that are not available for months. CIRCLE’s day-after youth turnout estimate tracks well with the Census Current Population Survey (CPS) dataset—see graph—and can be calculated immediately. CIRCLE has long interrogated all of these sources and, while they do not match exactly, they follow the same trends, which makes this an early indicator.

The substantial increase in youth turnout is in many ways the culmination of an election cycle in which young people had an extraordinary impact through their activism, emphasis on voter registration, and—yesterday—overwhelming support for Democratic candidates. From the gun-control movement after the Parkland shooting, to voter registration on par with a presidential year and higher early voting, youth demonstrated newfound levels of engagement and enthusiasm that have historically been unusual in a midterm election. CIRCLE’s own poll of 18 to 24-year-olds found that 34% said they were “extremely likely” to vote—a similar rate to our estimate today. Our survey also found that youth were confident about their generation’s ability to effect change, and that many understood voting was an important way to advance their political views.

The Youth Vote Shapes Midterm Results

 

Young people’s dramatic rise in voter turnout, combined with an overwhelming preference for Democratic candidates, made youth a powerful voting bloc in the 2018 midterms. As we reported yesterday, according to exit polls, 67% of youth voted for a House Democratic candidate and just 32% for a House Republican candidate, a historic 35-point vote choice gap that almost certainly helped the Democratic Party take control of the House of Representatives.

In addition, in several statewide races, the youth vote appears to have been decisive. In Wisconsin, where Democratic candidate Tony Evers beat incumbent Republican Scott Walker by just 1.2 percentage points, under-30 voters supported Evers by a 23-point margin, 60% to 37%. That’s a substantial shift from 2014, when youth supported Walker’s Democratic challenger Mary Burke by a much smaller margin, 51% to 47%,

In Nevada, where young people made up a particularly high share of the electorate this year (19%), both the Democratic Senate candidate Jacky Rosen, and the Democratic Governor candidate Steve Sisolak, are projected to have won close races by less than 5 percentage points. Young voters supported Rosen over her Republican rival by a 37-point margin (67% to 30%) and Sisolak by a 31-point margin (62% to 31%).

And in Montana, where youth made up an above-average 15% of the electorate, Democrat Jon Tester won an extremely close race that was not called until Wednesday afternoon. Youth supported Tester over his Republican opponent by a nearly 40-point margin: 67% to 28%.

The results in these and other races across the country track what we saw overall: youth turnout was particularly high in the group of states with highly competitive gubernatorial contests:  Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In those five states put together, youth turnout was 35%—4 percentage points higher than among young people overall. Turnout was also higher (33%) in the group of states with both a hot-button ballot issue and a competitive statewide race: Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota. If we group states by whether they had a competitive Senate race, regardless of other factors (AZ, FL, IN, MO, MT, NJ, NV, TN, TX) collective turnout in those nine states was slightly below this overall historic youth turnout.

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