Youth Voting

Publication Date:

Sep 14, 2016

Key facts about youth voting

• From 1972 to 2016, the proportion of youth ages 18 to 24 who reported voting in presidential elections decreased from 50 to 39 percent.
• The percentage of youth who reported voting in 2014, a nonpresidential election year, was 16 percent—markedly lower than in the 2016 presidential election (39 percent). This pattern has been consistent since 1972.
• In 2016, young women reported registering to vote and voting (53 and 42 percent, respectively) at higher rates than their male peers (49 and 37 percent, respectively).
• Among the racial/ethnic groups for which we have data, Asian and Hispanic youth are the least likely to report both registering to vote and voting, regardless of their citizenship.

Trends in youth voting

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, those figures were lower in the 2016 election, at 39 and 51 percent, respectively. (Appendix 1). For nonpresidential elections from 1974 to 2014, the proportion of youth who were registered to vote remained steady, at 39 to 42 percent; the percentage of youth who voted decreased from 1982 to 1998, 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 (the latest nonpresidential election year for which we have data) (Appendix 2).

Differences by type of election

Substantially fewer young (and older) adults vote in nonpresidential election years than in presidential election years. Thirty-nine (39) percent of young adults voted in the 2016 presidential election year, while 16 percent voted in the 2014 nonpresidential election year (Appendices 1 and 2).

Differences by gender 

Young women report registering to vote and actually voting at higher rates than their male peers. In the 2016 election, 53 percent of women ages 18 to 24 reported registering to vote, compared with 49 percent of men in the same age range. Similarly, 42 percent of women reported voting, compared with 37 percent of men (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin 

In general, Asian and Hispanic youth are least likely to report registering to vote and voting in both presidential and nonpresidential election years. In 2016, 40 percent of black youth and 46 percent of non-Hispanic white youth reported voting, compared with 38 percent of Asian and 34 percent of Hispanic youth who were citizens at the time. Asian and Hispanic youth were also less likely to be registered voters (31 percent of Asian and 46 percent of Hispanic citizens) (Appendix 1). In 2008, there was an unusually high number of black voters overall, a trend that continued into the 2010 congressional elections. In 2014, 18 percent of black and non-Hispanic white youth reported voting, while 12 percent of Asian youth and 13 percent of Hispanic youth who were citizens reported the same (Appendix 2).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

2016 state estimates for young adults ages 18 to 24 are available from the U.S. Census Bureau at https://census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-580.html
(Table 4C).

2014 state estimates for young adults ages 18 to 24 are available from the U.S. Census Bureau at https://census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-577.html (Table 4C).
Analysis of the youth voter turnout in 2016, including state-level comparisons of youth and adult voter turnout, are available from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at https://civicyouth.org/ResearchTopics/research-topics/political-participation-and-voting/.

International estimates

Data on the percentage of 14-year-olds from various countries who expect to vote are available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005021.pdf (Figure 18).

Background

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?” They were also asked, “Were you registered to vote in the November X, XXXX election?” Except where otherwise noted, estimates include all young adults (including noncitizens) in the denominator.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Youth Voting. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/youth-voting.

Endnotes

1 U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). Historical reported voting rates [Table A-1]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/voting-historical-time-series.html.