CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

2018 Youth Turnout Increased in Every State for Which We Have Data

April 2nd, 2019
Email to a Friend

Last month, CIRCLE released 2018 midterm youth turnout estimates for an initial batch of 17 states.Today, we are publishing youth turnout estimates for 17 additional states, including states with key 2018 races like Texas and Tennessee, and potential 2020 battlegrounds like Michigan and Virginia.  Both individually and taken together, these turnout estimates confirm and add context to the overall trend of higher youth participation in the 2018 election.

Across the 34 states for which we have now released estimates, we find:

  • Compared to to 2014, youth voter turnout increased in  every single state. In 32 of the 34 states, youth turnout increased by at least 7 percentage points, and in 27 of them it increased by double digits.
  • In the majority of states (26 out of 34), the increase in youth turnout exceeded the increase in turnout among the general (all ages) electorate.

Why Look at State Turnout?

Youth turnout—the percentage of young people who are citizens of the US, ages 18-29, who cast a ballot—can differ dramatically from state to state, and can either follow or run counter to national trends. State turnout can be affected by competitive statewide races (or the cumulative effect of more than one close election), facilitative state election policies, a state’s civic culture, the presence of strong youth civic engagement infrastructure (that can, for example activate deliberate outreach on ballot measures), and other factors.

State by State Turnout Estimates

As in the previous states we had examined (yellow in the table below), youth turnout increased in every single one of the 17 states for which we release new estimates today (green in the following table; for a special note on Utah, in purple, read below)). Among this new group of states, Oregon had the highest youth turnout (39%) and Virginia experienced the biggest change between 2014 and 2018: an increase of over 20 percentage points. In half of the “new” states below, youth voter turnout increased by more than 15 points.  

Not only did young people substantially increase their voter participation; in most states they also “outpaced” the increases among the rest of the voting population. In 11 of these 17 new states, the increase in youth turnout was greater than the increase in turnout among the 2018 general electorate. Added to the states for which we had previously released data, that makes 26 out of 34 states where the turnout increase was higher among youth.

Our youth turnout estimate for Utah merits special consideration. We calculate that 16.8% of young people in the state voted in 2018, more than double the 8.1% we estimate voted in the 2014 midterms, though still a lower percentage point increase than for the general (all ages) electorate in the state. However, according to technical documentation compiled by the source of our numerator data (the Catalist voter file), the number of voters in this aggregated voter file for Utah is smaller than the total number of votes cast according to the office of the Utah Secretary of State due to a change in state law which provides voters the option to make their information unavailable to those accessing voting information from a state. The variance is -10.01% (i.e., the Catalist file contains almost 108,000 fewer votes cast than the official count). In order to adjust for this variance, we increased our voter counts by 10.01%, and our estimated turnout reflects this adjusted votes cast. However, because the option to keep information from voter registration private was on the voter registration form starting with the 2018 election, it is reasonable to believe that new voters, many of whom would be young voters, are overrepresented among those who chose to keep their information private and therefore underrepresented by the voter file. It is important to keep this data limitation in mind when considering our estimate and for historical comparisons going forward, as the described change in state law will hinder our ability to provide youth turnout estimates for the state in the future.

It’s also worth noting that six of the eight states (including Utah) where the increase in youth turnout did not exceed the overall increase in turnout are “red states”—with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) score of at least R+8. Youth turnout is influenced by many factors, a key one being outreach from political parties and campaigns, and our 2018 post-election poll found that Republican-affiliated youth received less outreach in 2018. Also notable among this newly released group of states are three in which the increase in overall turnout exceeded the increase in youth turnout, and which saw a Democratic Senate candidate lose a close race in a historically Republican state: Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas. In Missouri, Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill lost her reelection bid to a Republican challenger. In Tennessee and Texas, Democratic challengers (Phil Bredesen and Beto O’Rourke, respectively) failed to unseat incumbent Republicans despite a nationally favorable electoral climate for Democrats.

Spotlights on Tennessee, Maine, and Texas


In Tennessee, youth voter turnout more than doubled between 2014 to 2018: from 9.2% to 22.3%. Anticipation for a surge of youth voters in this state rose in the lead-up to the election after pop superstar Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and explicit social media call for voter registration. Swift penned an open letter on her Instagram account and linked to, which reported thousands of new voter registrations in Tennessee in the days after her social media post. Given her popularity among youth and her previous reluctance to share her political views, Swift’s efforts drew a lot of attention and may have contributed to the 13 percentage point youth turnout increase in her home state of Tennessee.

That said, the overall turnout increase in the state was even larger than the increase among youth, 15.4%, which may suggest that Tennessee youth were undermobilized in spite of social media appeals from a major celebrity. As discussed previously, other dynamics were at play in Tennessee, a solidly “red” state where Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn was favored to win, which may have led to less outreach to young voters.


CIRCLE’s 2018 Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI), which measured the states in which young voters had the highest potential to swing an election, ranked Maine 2nd for its gubernatorial race and 10th for its Senate race. Youth voter turnout in the state rose by 5.8 percentage points between 2014 and 2018, a more modest increase than in some other states, but significant given that its 2014 youth voter turnout rate was already relatively high (30.5%), and that the increase to 36.4% in 2018 puts Maine among the states with the highest youth voter turnout rates in the country. Additionally, the youth share of the vote in Maine (the percentage of all votes that were cast by young people) was 10.4% in 2018, which is high for a midterm election.

The relatively high levels of youth voting in Maine may be due in part to how the state approaches election administration. For instance, Maine allows 17 year olds to preregister to vote, creating an onramp to participate in the electoral process. Additionally, ranked-choice voting was approved by Mainers in 2016 and utilized for the first time in 2018. In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidate Jared Golden edged out Republican Bruce Poliquin, 50.5% to 49.5%, after independent voters’ second- and third- choice votes were added to either candidate. This race served as an example of how the ranked-choice system may make citizens feel like their vote is never “wasted” and that their choice will always impact the election results. Young people may be especially encouraged to participate when they feel certain that their vote matters.


After just 8.2% of Texas youth turned out to vote in 2014—the lowest 2014 turnout rate among these 17 states—young people boosted their 2018 turnout rate to 25.8%. In Texas’ lone U.S. Senate race, challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) nearly upset incumbent Senator Ted Cruz (R), in part due to extensive youth support at the polls. According to a CIRCLE post-election analysis, O’Rourke earned his greatest support in counties with high proportions of young people—especially Latino youth. O’Rourke’s narrow margin of defeat (3 percentage points) brings into sharp relief the fact the increase in youth turnout merely matched the increase among the general Texas electorate: both went up by about 17 percentage points. With O’Rourke now running for president, Texas figures to be a closely watched state in 2020, and the continued outreach to and influence of youth in the state may play a prominent role.

Background on State by State Turnout Data

Data available about young voters has increased a great deal over the past five years, but much takes months to update after an election. One significant advance is the presence of vendors who aggregate state voter file data from public sources into a national voter file (e.g. Catalist, which we use). Starting in 2012, CIRCLE began using a national voter file to calculate state-by-state, district-by-district and county-by-county youth voter turnout estimates for presidential and midterm elections. This data gets updated as each state fully updates their electronic files and that can take months. While we still use the Census Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting Supplement for some subgroup analysis and to view long-term trends, which voter files do not allow, we have used voter file data in our YESI, RAYSE Index (county data) and ongoing analyses as much as possible.

CIRCLE uses a number of sources to estimate various turnout figures.  For youth turnout, CIRCLE uses national aggregated voter file from Catalist, LLC. to get data on the number of votes cast by people who are ages 18-29 on the Election Day.  We use data provided by the United States Election Project at University of Florida to get data on total number of ballots cast in 2014 and 2018 General Election. We derive citizen population estimates from the American Community Survey 1-year state estimate.  As in any turnout calculation method, a number of factors can result in slight variations in the turnout estimate.

Comments are closed.