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

Non-College Youth Voting in the States

June 6th, 2011
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In every state, young Americans without college experience – about half of the young population – were much less likely to vote in 2010 than their peers with college experience. Since educational attainment is a good measure of social class, low turnout by youths with no college experience makes our electorate less representative. This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story, since the rates at which 18- to 29-year-old citizens voted varied a great deal from state to state. Young people without college experience living in high-turnout states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for example) were almost as likely to vote as those in low-turnout states  like Indiana and Texas who do have college experience.  

Moreover, the gap between the voting rates of young adults with and without college experience varies from state to state. According to data from the Census Current Population Survey (CPS), analyzed by CIRCLE, the five states with the largest percentage point gaps are:

  1. Washington (34 percentage points)
  2. Oregon (33)
  3. Arizona (25)
  4. Nevada (24)
  5. Alaska (24)

And the five states with the smallest gaps:

  1. Virginia (7)
  2. Nebraska (8)
  3. New Hampshire (9)
  4. Connecticut (10)
  5. Georgia (10) 

College-educated young adults in Washington and Oregon – two states that had several competitive contests in 2010 –voted at impressive rates, but the same wasn’t true of their non-college educated peers. On the other hand, in Nebraska – which had few competitive elections – turnout was low for all young people, not only those without a college education. While reforms such as allowing election-day registration (EDR) can increase youth turnout, there’s no guarantee that they will close the turnout gap between young people with and without college experience. New Hampshire, with the third-smallest gap, allows election-day registration, but so do Iowa, Minnesota, and Montana – all of which have large gaps.

Perhaps EDR isn’t enough on its own to bring politically tuned-out young people to the polls in large numbers. Election laws are not the only ways states differ from one another: demographics, education policies, and political cultures all help to determine who votes and who doesn’t, as well. Either way, increasing turnout among young adults without a college education could create hundreds of thousands of new voters in 2012.

-Andrew Mayersohn

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