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

The “Forgotten Half”: Education Disparities in Youth Voter Turnout

August 30th, 2010
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Las Vegas – While young Americans with college experience continue to be more likely to vote than those who don’t attend college, there are effective strategies and initiatives to help bridge this gap, according to new research released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Netroots Nation in Las Vegas this week.

  • Fact Sheet (suggested citation: Nover, A., Godsay, S., Kirby, E.H. & Kawashima-Ginsberg, K (2010) Electoral Engagement and College Experience, CIRCLE Fact Sheet, from
  • Press Release

Many more young Americans are going to college, but 22 million (nearly half) of 18 to 29 year olds are not enrolled in higher education programs. Since 2000, voter turnout among college-educated youth has increased by 12 percentage points and non-college youth turnout has increased by nine percentage points. In 2008 the turn out rate of college-educated 18 to 29 year-olds was 62 percent – 26 percentage points higher than the rate of non-college youth. Midterm turnout disparities are equally drastic: in 2006 there was a 17 percentage point gap between the two groups.

Youth voter turnout disparities are even higher when broken down further into four more specific categories. In 2008, 72 percent of those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher voted, which is 21 percentage points higher than the national average for young people. Fifty-seven percent of young people with some college experience voted. Among high school graduates, 39 percent went to the polls. Slightly more than a quarter of young people with less than a high school diploma voted in 2008.

Research shows there are strategies that may help to overcome these turnout disparities. In recent elections some states have implemented election reform laws, including Election Day registration, mail-in ballots, early voting, absentee voting laws and extended poll hours. In fact, in 2008 among 18- to 29-year-old citizens who are in the labor force, implementation of longer polling hours was associated with a seven percentage point increase in the voting rate for full-time (35 or more hours per week) workers and a five percentage point increase for part-time workers.

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