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 Turnout Down in New Jersey, About the Same in Virginia, Compared to Past Gubernatorial Elections

November 4th, 2009
Email to a Friend

Turnout of Voters Under Age 30 is 19% in New Jersey, 17% in Virginia, and 12% in New York City
Interviews with Experts Available; Contact David Roscow at
703-276-2772 x14 or

Tisch College, Medford/Somerville, Mass. –  Young voters played a major role in the 2008 presidential election, but less so in 2009.  In the New Jersey governor’s race, turnout decreased by seven points to 19% between 1997 and 2009.  In Virginia, turnout decreased by just one point to 17% between 1997 and 2009.  Less than one in five eligible young people voted in both states. A majority of young people preferred the Democratic candidate in New Jersey and the Republican candidate in Virginia.

To produce state-level youth voting estimates immediately following an election, CIRCLE relies on preliminary exit polls, which are subject to revision.   We must use 1997 for comparison because no turnout data are available for more recent off-year elections in these two states. Thus we do not know the change since 2005, the most recent gubernatorial election year in Virginia and New Jersey. Comparisons to the presidential election year of 2008 are misleading because turnout is always much lower in odd-numbered years.

Table 1: Turnout in Gubernatorial Elections, ages 18-29





New Jersey






As a proportion of all the people who voted, in 2009, under-30s represented 9% in New Jersey and 10% in Virginia. (“Turnout” is the proportion of all young citizens who voted, shown above.)

In Virginia, where Republican Robert F. McDonnell won the election by a large margin, young voters preferred McDonnell to Democrat R. Creigh Deeds by 54% to 44%. In New Jersey, young voters preferred Jon S. Corzine over Christopher J. Christie by 57% to 36%. In New York City, young voters preferred Michael R. Bloomberg to William C. Thompson Jr. by 49% to 48%. These results are according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.

Data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections show that youth turnout in Virginia, New Jersey, and nationally had been steadily increasing in presidential years:

Table 2: Turnout in National Elections, ages 18-29


STATE (Ages 18-29)




New Jersey












“Although 17 and 19 percent are low turnout numbers and far from satisfactory, they should be put in context,” said CIRCLE Director Peter Levine. “Turnout is always much lower in off-year gubernatorial elections than in presidential years. Also, it is a statistical mistake to generalize or make predictions based on a very small sample, such as two governors’ races. We do know, however, that gubernatorial campaigns and independent, nonpartisan groups put more resources into mobilizing youth in 2005 than they did in 2009. Other research shows that campaigning to young voters is effective at raising their turnout.”

As another way of estimating the turnout trends, CIRCLE analyzed the  number of votes cast in 13 precincts in VA and 5 precincts in NJ that have relatively high concentrations of college students.  These precincts were the focus of non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts of the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project in 2005. We compared the turnout rate of registered voters from the 2001 and 2005 Gubernatorial Election with Tuesday’s turnout of registered voters and found that the number of voters decreased by an average of seven percentage points (compared to 2001) in the precincts studied in VA (see Table 3) and increased by three percentage points (compared to 2001) in NJ (see Table 4). Again, it is important to note that the campaign and nonpartisan resources devoted to youth outreach were smaller in 2009 than in 2005. For instance, in New Jersey the PIRGs made 16,000 get-out-the-vote contacts in 2005 and 9,000 in 2009.  The PIRGs did not have a get-out-the-vote effort in VA in 2009.

*Download the Press Release

More information on youth voters and civic engagement can be found online at

* The estimated number of young people who voted in the 1997 VA and NJ Governor’s races were calculated using: (1) the number of ballots cast in each race according to the media, (2) the youth share of those who voted, as reported by CNN/Time Exit Poll, and (3) the estimated number of 18-29 year old citizens taken from the 1997 Census
Current Population Survey, March Demographic File.

CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) conducts and promotes research on the civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25. A part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, CIRCLE has received funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Carnegie Corporation of New York and several other foundations.

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, a national leader in civic engagement, prepares students from all fields of Tufts University to become engaged public citizens and community leaders.

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized as one of the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs across the University’s schools is widely encouraged.

103 Responses to “Youth Turnout Down in New Jersey, About the Same in Virginia, Compared to Past Gubernatorial Elections”

  1. Mystery Shopper Says:

    Shame about the low turnout, it’s no different here in the UK either. Young voters need to realise that they are the future and should speak up!

  2. 125cc Motorbikes Says:

    The annoying thing I find is that people who don’t actually turn out tend to be the ones that end up complaining the most when things don’t go there way. It’s not exactly a difficult task – so why aren’t the younger generation doing it?

  3. The crucial generation « Bluementum Says:

    […] but did anyone in December 2008 believe that only less than a fifth of younger voters would show up to the polls in a high-stakes gubernatorial […]