Youth voter turnout results show positive trends and areas for improvement

Voter participation in the U.S. among people ages 18 to 29 continues to grow, but participation among people in this age group remains lower than that of older adults.

According to figures released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the participation of young voters continues to increase and have an effect on the outcome of presidential elections. According to CIRCLE, young voters – ages 18 to 29 – in four states helped to propel President Barack Obama to his second presidential term: “Assuming that Florida is called for President Obama in 2012, then Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida will be states in which young voters were essential to the President’s reelection coalition. In those states, if Governor Romney had won half of the youth vote, or if young voters had stayed home entirely, then Romney would have won instead of Obama. Those states represent 80 electoral votes, sufficient to have made Romney the next president.” In each of these four states, more than 60 percent of young voters cast ballots for President Obama.

CIRCLE’s review of exit poll data indicates that the number of young people, and likewise the percentage of eligible voters ages 18 to 29, has increased since the 1990s. In 1996, 14.5 million young people voted in the presidential election, representing 37 percent of total eligible voters ages 18 to 29. In the 2000 presidential election, voting among 18 to 29 year olds increased to 16.2 million (41 percent of eligible voters); in 2004, to 19.4 million (48 percent of eligible voters); and in 2008, to 22.8 million (52 percent of eligible voters). Early exit poll results indicate that between 22 and 23 million people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2012 presidential election, making up 19 percent of all voters. Exit poll data indicates that among voters of that age range, President Obama received 60 percent of the votes and Governor Romney received 37 percent.  

The trend of increased voter turnout among 18 to 29 year olds in recent Presidential elections seems to reflect a greater commitment to civic participation among young voters. At the same time, the rate of voter participation and registration among this age group remains significantly lower than that of older adults. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 (the last year for which data is currently available) the percentage of voters ages 18 to 29 was the smallest of any age group. Young voters also represented the age group with the highest percentage of people who were not registered to vote:

 U.S. Voter Participation in 2008

Age

Voted

Registered,
No Vote

Not
Registered

No
Response

18-29

51.1

10.1

22.3

16.6

30-39

61.3

7.8

16.6

14.3

40-49

64.9

6.6

13.8

14.7

50-59

69.3

5.8

11.2

13.7

60-69

72.4

5.0

10.5

12.1

70+

69.1

8.1

10.4

12.4

Data sponsored by: U.S. Census Bureau/CPS Branch

Educational programs that allow high school-aged youth to learn about politics, public policy and government may be one way to prepare more youth to become active voters once they become 18 years old. One such program, coordinated by Michigan State University Extension, is the Michigan 4-H Capitol Experience. Michigan 4-H Capitol Experience is a three-day conference for Michigan high school students that allows participants to explore a public policy issue of their choice while engaging directly with state lawmakers, lobbyists, state agency staff and others to develop an understanding of public policy and the function of government. While attending the conference, students also participate in a Michigan Legislative Simulation, a curriculum developed by MSU Extension educators that teaches participants to draft bills based on their public policy interest area, then attempt to move those bills through the legislative process.

To learn other ways that Michigan youth can develop leadership skills and practice civic engagement, please visit the Michigan 4-H Citizenship, Leadership and Service website.

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