Youth Voting

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In the 2012 election, the proportions of youth ages 18 to 24 who reported voting and registering to vote fell from the recent peak in 2008, though still higher than in 2000.

Importance

Active civic participation is important for the future of a nation and a healthy democracy.[1] In 1971, 18- to 20- year olds gained the right to vote, and 50 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 voted in the 1972 presidential election.[2] Since then, however, voting among young adults has fallen, causing concern among lawmakers and other policy leaders.[3] While voting has also declined among older voters, the trend is steeper among younger voters.[4] Studies examining the reasons for this decline in voting find that many youth feel uninformed about politics and the electoral process.[5] A study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that one-third of high school seniors lack a basic understanding of how the American government operates.[6] The New Millennium Report, issued by the National Association of Secretaries of State, also found that youth believe that government and elections are not relevant to things they care about.[7] It has been suggested that this may be why many prefer to engage in community service, which is on the rise among youth.[8],[9]

Trends

83_fig1The proportion of youth ages 18 to 24 who reported voting was higher in the 2008 presidential election year (44 percent) than in any year since 1972, and the proportion registering to vote (53 percent) was the highest since 1992.  However, both figures declined for the 2012 election. (Figure 1)

 

Differences by Type of Election

83_fig2Substantially fewer young (and older) adults vote in nonpresidential election years, compared with presidential election years.  Twenty percent of youth voted in the 2010 nonpresidential election year, whereas 38 percent voted in the 2012 presidential election year.  (Figure 2)

Differences by Gender

Young women are more likely than young men to report both registering to vote and actually voting.  In the 2012 election, 53 percent of women ages 18 to 24 reported registering to vote, compared with 46 percent of men the same age.  (Appendix 1) Similarly, 41 percent of women reported actually voting, compared with 35 percent of men.  (Figure 2)

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin

83_fig3Hispanic youth are the least likely to report registering to vote and actually voting, in both presidential and nonpresidential election years.  In 2012, 46 percent of black youth and 41 percent of white youth reported voting, compared with 34 percent of Hispanic youth who were citizens at that time. There was no significant difference in the proportion of white and black youth who were registered to vote (55 percent, each) but Hispanic youth were also less likely to be registered (45 percent of Hispanic citizens). (Figure 3) In 2008 there was an unusually high number of black voters overall, and this trend continued in the 2010 Congressional elections. [10] In 2010, 23 percent of black youth and 22 percent of white youth reported voting, while 16 percent of Hispanic youth who were citizens reported voting. (Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

2012 state estimates for young adults ages 18 to 24 are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. (table 4c).

2010 state estimates for young adults ages 18 to 24 are available from the U.S. Census Bureau.  (table 4c).

Analysis of the youth voter turnout in 2008 and 2010, including state-level comparisons of youth and adult voter turnout, are available from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. 

International Estimates

While no voting estimates are available, international data on civic behavior (including political knowledge, attitudes and activities) among youth in 27 countries and the U.S. were collected in 1999 as part of the IEA Civic Education Study.

Additionally, data on the percentage of 14-year olds who expect to vote from various countries are available from the National Center for Education Statistics (Figure 18).

National Goals

None.

What Works to Make Progress on the Indicator

"What Works for Civic Engagement: Lessons From Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions."

Related Indicators

Definition

From 1996 onward, eligible voters were asked "In any election, some people are not able to vote because they are sick or busy or have some other reason, and others do not want to vote. Did you vote in the election held on Tuesday, November X, XXXX?," and also "Were you registered to vote in the November X, XXXX election?" Except where otherwise noted, estimates include all young adults (including non-citizens) in the denominator.

Data Sources

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (2012). Voting and registration: Historical time series tables. Table 1-A. Available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/index.html

Raw Data Source

November Supplement, Current Population Survey

http://www.census.gov/cps/about/supplemental.html

 

Appendix 1 - Percentage of Youth Ages 18 to 24 Who Reported That They Had Registered to Vote, and Percentage Who Reported That They Had Voted in Presidential Election Years, 1972-2012

1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012
Registered1 58.9 51.3 49.2 51.3 48.2 52.5 48.8 45.4 51.5 53.4 49.4
Gender
Male 58.3 50.8 48.0 49.6 45.5 50.5 46.5 42.3 48.2 50.2 46.3
Female 59.4 51.9 50.4 53.0 50.8 54.4 51.0 48.5 54.9 56.6 52.5
Race/Hispanic Origin1
White 60.6 53.7 51.0 52.0 48.7 54.6 49.8 46.3 52.5 53.6 49.8
Non-Hispanic White - - - - - - 54.3 51.7 59.1 58.6 54.8
Black 47.7 38.8 41.3 53.7 49.8 49.2 49.4 48.0 53.1 57.8 55.2
Hispanic 38.9 29.0 22.5 29.8 25.3 24.9 27.6 23.2 27.6 35.2 35.4
Hispanic (Citizens only) - - - - - - - - 44.6 50.0 45.3
Asian - - - - - - - - 29.2 34.9 26.7
Asian (Citizens only) - - - - - - - - 42.6 51.1 41.2
Voted1 49.6 42.2 39.9 40.8 36.2 42.8 32.4 32.3 41.9 44.3 38.0
Gender
Male 48.8 40.9 38.5 38.7 34.1 40.5 29.8 30.0 38.8 41.0 34.7
Female 50.4 43.4 41.2 42.8 38.2 45.1 35.0 34.6 44.9 47.7 41.3
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 51.9 44.7 41.8 41.6 37.0 45.4 33.3 33.0 42.6 43.8 37.8
Non-Hispanic White - - - - - - 36.9 37.2 48.5 48.3 41.4
Black 34.7 27.9 30.1 40.6 35.0 36.6 32.4 33.9 44.0 52.3 45.9
Hispanic 30.9 21.8 15.9 21.9 16.8 17.6 15.1 15.4 20.4 27.4 26.7
Hispanic (Citizens only) - - - - - - - - 33.0 38.8 34.2
Asian - - - - - - - - 23.4 27.8 20.1
Asian (Citizens only) - - - - - - - - 34.2 40.6 30.9
Note: Current Population Survey figures routinely overestimate voter registration and turnout when compared to official rates.1Estimates include all young adults (including non-citizens) in the denominator, except where otherwise noted.2Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Except where otherwise noted, estimates for whites and blacks include Hispanics of those races.Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (2012). Voting and Registration. Table 1-A. Available athttp://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/index.html

Appendix 2 - Percentage of Youth Ages 18 to 24 Who Reported That They Had Registered to Vote, and Percentage Who Reported That They Had Voted in Nonpresidential Election Years, 1974-2010

1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006 2010
Registered1 41.3 40.5 42.4 42.0 39.9 42.3 39.2 38.2 41.6 41.8
Gender
Male 41.8 39.5 42.4 41.0 39.5 40.9 36.4 34.9 39.5 40.0
Female 40.8 41.5 42.5 43.0 40.2 43.7 42.0 41.6 43.8 43.6
Race/Hispanic Origin1
White 42.8 37.2 43.2 42.0 40.5 43.9 36.4 39.2 43.2 42.8
Non-Hispanic White - - - - - 48.1 45.0 44.2 48.5 47.6
Black 33.6 37.2 41.8 46.1 40.2 42.0 63.5 39.6 38.2 43.4
Hispanic 23.1 20.5 24.3 22.0 19.3 20.0 22.2 20.8 23.6 26.3
Hispanic (Citizens only) - - - - - - - 34.3 38.7 34.5
Asian - - - - - - - - 23.3 24.2
Asian (Citizens only) - - - - - - - - 33.8 34.5
Voted1 23.8 23.5 24.8 21.9 20.4 20.1 16.6 17.2 19.9 19.6
Gender
Male 24.6 23.2 25.1 21.2 19.8 18.6 15.7 15.7 18.6 18.7
Female 23.1 23.9 25.7 22.5 21.0 21.5 17.6 18.6 21.2 20.6
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 25.2 24.2 25.0 21.6 20.8 21.1 17.2 17.4 20.7 19.7
Non-Hispanic White - - - - - 23.1 19.2 19.9 23.6 21.9
Black 16.1 20.1 25.5 25.1 20.2 17.4 15.6 19.3 19.2 22.5
Hispanic 13.3 11.5 14.2 11.6 8.7 10.1 9.0 8.1 10.2 12.2
Hispanic (Citizens only) - - - - - - - 13.3 16.6 16.1
Asian - - - - - - - - 10.1 9.5
Asian (Citizens only) - - - - - - - - 14.6 13.5
Note: Current Population Survey figures routinely overestimate voter registration and turnout when compared to official rates.1Estimates include all young adults (including non-citizens) in the denominator, except where otherwise noted.2Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race. Except where otherwise noted, estimates for whites and blacks include Hispanics of those races. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (2012). Voting and Registration. Table 1-A. Available athttp://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/index.html

Endnotes


[1]Gibson, Cynthia. 2001. From inspiration to participation: A review on perspectives of youth civic engagement. The Grantmaker Forum on Community and National Service and Carnegie Corporation. http://www.pacefunders.org/publications/pubs/Moving%20Youth%20report%20REV3.pdf

[2]Fetto, J. (1999). Down for the count: Voting rates for young adults. American Demographics, 21(11), 46-47.

[3]Horwitt, S. (1999). The NASS New Millennium Survey: American youth attitudes on politics, citizenship, government and voting. Washington, D.C.: The National Association of Secretaries of State. http://nass.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=132&Itemid=440

[4]United State Census Bureau (2012). Historical CPS time series tables, Voting and registration.Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau. Available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/index.html.

[5]Hinds, M. D.( 2001). Youth vote 2000: They'd rather volunteer. Carnegie Reporter,1,(2). Carnegie Corporation of New York. http://ncfy.acf.hhs.gov/library/2001/youth-vote-2000-theyd-rather-volunteer.

[6]The National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Civics 2010: National Assessment of Educational Progress at grades 4, 8, and 12, The Nation's Report Card. Institute of Educational Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington D.C. Available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2010/2011466.pdf

[7]Horwitt, 1999. Op. cit.

[8]Gibson, 2001. Op. cit.

[9]Zaff, J. F. and Michelsen, E.. (2003). Encouraging civic engagement: How teens are (or are not) becoming responsible citizens. American Teens. Child Trends.. http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Child_Trends-2002_10_01_RB_CivicEngagement.pdf

[10]United State Census Bureau (2012). Op. cit.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends. (2013). Youth voting. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=youth-voting

 

Last updated: June 2013