Vanishing Voters: What Works to Increase Voter Turnout Among Young People?

Washington, DC – As we approach another Election Day Nov. 5, Americans are already hearing predictions of record low voter turnout. And the predictions for voters ages 18-24 are even worse. In the 2000 presidential elections, only 32 percent of young Americans voted. What can be done to reverse this trend and to encourage greater civic involvement among America’s youth?

To help answer this critical question, Child Trends reviewed the best research studies available to determine the factors that contribute to civic engagement among teens and to determine the types of programs and approaches that work (and don’t work) to get young people involved in their communities. The findings are based on an extensive review of research studies done in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The results of this comprehensive review are presented in two companion products: a research brief, Encouraging Civic Engagement: How Teens Are (or Are Not) Becoming Responsible Citizens, and a web-based What Works table that summarizes key research and evaluation findings. The What Works table is a point-and-click resource for the web. It gives users the option to access short, readable summaries or to delve deeply into the research studies.

View and download this brief at  Click here for the  interactive What Works table and the rest of the American Teens series.

Findings from the review include:

  • Parents act as role models; those who vote and volunteer are more likely to have children who are involved in civic life as well.
  • Door-to-door and phone canvassing directed toward youth are effective methods of increasing political involvement.
  • Promoting civic engagement is not a one-shot event. While research shows that programs can be effective at increasing teens’ participation levels in voting and volunteering, the impacts may not last long after the program ends.
  • Involve teens in how the programs will run, deciding what types of activities are needed in their communities and evaluating the programs’ success.
  • Civics education in school may also increase voting among young people.

“Our nation and our communities rely on citizens who vote, volunteer and are active in civic life,” said Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., president and senior scholar at Child Trends. “Low voter turnout is not a reason to give up on our youth. It is reason to be more concerned about and dedicated to bringing young Americans into the process and into the civic lives of their communities.”

Child Trends’ American Teens series summarizes and “translates” key research and evaluation studies on preventing teen pregnancy, encouraging better eating and exercise habits, promoting mental and emotional health, motivating teens in school, promoting positive social skills and encouraging responsible citizenship.

Knight Foundation’s Community Partners Program works in 26 U.S. communities to identify promising approaches to locally identified needs. With Knight funding, several Knight communities are concentrating on better lives for children and families. The Child Trends American Teens work helps the communities better identify strategies that might work locally for at-risk youth.


Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.