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, although they were still higher than in 2000.
Studies examining the reasons for this decline in voting find that many youth feel uninformed about politics and the electoral process. 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. 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. It has been suggested that this may be why many prefer to engage in community service, which is on the rise among youth.,
The 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, in the 2012 election the figures declined, to 38 and 49 percent, respectively. (Figure 1) Looking at non-presidential elections from 1974 to 2014, the proportion of youth who were registered to vote remained steady, at between 39 percent and 42 percent; the percentage of youth who voted decreased between 1982 and 1998, going from 25 to 17 percent. Although there was an increase in 2002 and 2006, the proportion has resumed its downward trend, and was at 16 percent in 2014. (Appendix 2)
Differences by Type of Election
Substantially fewer young (and older) adults vote in nonpresidential election years, compared with presidential election years. Thirty-eight percent voted in the 2012 presidential election year, while 16 percent of youth voted in the 2014 nonpresidential 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 2014 election, 40 percent of women ages 18 to 24 reported registering to vote, compared with 38 percent of men the same age. (Appendix 1) Similarly, 17 percent of women reported actually voting, compared with 15 percent of men. (Figure 2)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
In general, Asian and Hispanic 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 31 percent of Asian and 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 Asian and Hispanic youth were also less likely to be registered (41 percent of Asian, and 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. In 2014, 18 percent of black youth and 16 percent of white youth reported voting, while 12 percent of Asian youth, and 13 percent of Hispanic youth, who were citizens reported voting. (Appendix 2)
State and Local Estimates
2014 state estimates for young adults ages 18 to 24 are available from the U.S. Census Bureau (table 4c).
2012 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.
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).
What Works to Make Progress on the Indicator
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.
U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (2015). 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
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
|Hispanic (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||44.6||50.0||45.3|
|Asian (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||42.6||51.1||41.2|
|Hispanic (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||33.0||38.8||34.2|
|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, 1974-2014
|Hispanic (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||34.3||38.7||34.5||34.7|
|Asian (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||33.8||34.5||33.3|
|Hispanic (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||13.3||16.6||16.1||12.6|
|Asian (Citizens only)||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||14.6||13.5||12.1|
|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|
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
Fetto, J. (1999). Down for the count: Voting rates for young adults. American Demographics, 21(11), 46-47.
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
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.
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.
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
Horwitt, 1999. Op. cit.
Gibson, 2001. Op. cit.
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
United State Census Bureau (2012). Op. cit.
Child Trends Databank. (2015). Youth voting. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=youth-voting
Last updated: December 2015