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

Youth Voting

Youth Voting Historically | The Youth Vote in 2018The Youth Vote in 2016 | Why Youth Voting Matters | What Affects Youth Voting | What Works in Getting Youth to Vote | Resources

Youth Voting Historically

The Youth Vote in 2018


Explore our 2018 Election Center for all of our 2018 data and analysis

The Youth Vote in 2016 

  • According to our initial, post-election estimate, approximately 50% of eligible young people—about 24 million youth, ages 18-29—voted in the 2016 general election. That’s a similar turnout rate to the one we calculated in 2012.
  • 55% of young people voted for Hillary Clinton, while 37% supported Donald Trump. The remaining 8% of youth voted for a third-party candidate or did not cast a ballot for president. There were significant differences in youth vote choice by race, gender, educational attainment, and other factors.
  • The youth electorate was as diverse as the general youth population, and as the youth electorate in recent elections: 61% White, 15% African-American, 17% Latino, 5% Asian-American, and 3% other.

Read our Full Analysis of Young Voters in the 2016 General Election


2016-youth-voting-by-age 2016-history-youth-vote-choice 2016-youth-voting-by-race

Why Youth Voting Matters

  • Voting is habit-forming: when young people learn the voting process and vote they are more likely to do so when they are older. If individuals have been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to return. So, getting young people to vote early could be key to raising a new generation of voters.
  • Young people are a major subset of the electorate and their voices matter:
    • 46 million young people, ages 18-29, are eligible to vote, while 39 million seniors are eligible to vote
    • Young people (ages 18-29) make up 21% of the voting eligible population in the U.S.
  • Young people’s participation can influence election results.
  • Involving young people in election-related learning, activities and discussion can have an impact on the young person’s household, increasing the likelihood that others in the household will vote. In immigrant communities, young voters may be easier to reach, are more likely to speak English (cutting down translation costs), and may be the most effective messengers within their communities.

And there are major differences in voter turnout among youth subgroups, which may persist as these youth get older if the gaps are not reduced.

What Affects Youth Voting

  • Contact! Young people who are contacted by an organization or a campaign are more likely to vote. Additionally, those who discuss an election are more likely to vote in it.
  • Young people who are registered to vote turn out in high numbers, very close to the rate of older voters. In the 2008 election, 84% of those youth 18-29 who were registered to vote actually cast a ballot. Youth voter registration rates are much lower than older age groups’ rates, and as a result, guiding youth through the registration process is one potential step to closing the age-related voting gap.
  • Having information about how, when and where to vote can help young people be and feel prepared to vote as well as reduce any level of intimidation they may feel.
  • A state’s laws related to voter registration and voting can have an impact on youth voter turnout. Seven out of the top 10 youth turnout states had some of the more ambitious measures, including Election Day registration, voting by mail (Oregon), or not requiring registration to vote (North Dakota).

In 2008, on average, 59% of young Americans whose home state offered Election Day Registration voted; nine percentage points higher than those who did not live in EDR states. For more on state voting laws see: “Easier Voting Methods Boost Youth Turnout“; How Postregistration Laws Affect the Turnout of Registrants; State Voting Laws and State Election Law Reform and Youth Voter Turnout .

  • Civic education opportunities in school have been shown to increase the likelihood that a young person will vote. These opportunities range from social studies classes to simulations of democratic processes and discussion of current issues. Unfortunately, many youth do not have these civic education opportunities, as research has shown that those in more white and/or more affluent schools are more likely to have these opportunities.
  • A young person’s home environment can have a large impact on their engagement. Youth who live in a place where members of their household are engaged and vote are more likely to do so themselves.

What Works in Getting Youth to Vote

  • Registration is sometimes a larger hurdle than the act of voting itself. Thus showing young people where to get reliable information on registration is helpful.
  • Personalized and interactive contact counts. The most effective way of getting a new voter is the in-person door-knock by a peer; the least effective is an automated phone call.
    • The medium is more important than the message. Partisan and nonpartisan, negative and positive messages seem to work about the same. The important factor is the degree to which the contact is personalized.
    • Canvassing costs $11 to $14 per new vote, followed closely by phone banks at $10 to $25 per new vote. Robocalls mobilize so few voters that they cost $275 per new vote. (These costs are figured per vote that would not be cast without the mobilizing effort).


A voter turnout time series for 1972-2012 (Excel spreadsheet)

Fact Sheets:






Research Report:

Working Papers:





For more information on youth voting: