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States See Surge in Young Voters

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There's an old joke in journalism that once is a fluke, two's a coincidence, and three's a trend. But what do you call 17 data points all tilting in the same direction?

You might have what can genuinely be called a youth voting surge: New data show that voting rates in the 2018 midterm elections for 18- to 29-year-olds increased in all 17 states studied so far by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at Tufts University.

"I think this is an early indicator showing that, at least in states with competitive statewide races, youth turnout was higher, and usually that outpaced general turnout," said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, CIRCLE's director.

CIRCLE has done yeoman's work collecting and analyzing the results of the midterm elections for the youth-turnout patterns. Its latest results put the phenomenon in greater context than before. (Some figures differ slightly from the earlier analyses because of updates to population estimates.)

Here are a few of the findings:

• Except for Louisiana, all the states had increases of at least 8 percentage points; many had increases in the double digits.

• Montana had a huge surge of more than 24 percent over its 2014 midterm results for that age group. That may be partly because it had a competitive U.S. Senate race. (Also, because it has a small population, small changes in voter behavior can have a bigger impact than in more populous states.)

• Youth turnout rates surpassed general turnout rates in all but two states, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

So what's up with Louisiana? It's not entirely clear, but the state has long had low voter-turnout rates; it also did not have a single statewide race, and all incumbents won re-election.

Did the extraordinary youth activism after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre affect matters? Possibly. While we don't have a good sense of how the subset of 18- and 19-year-olds voted, we do know from CIRCLE polling data that youths ages 18-24 who were actively involved with or agreed with the #neveragain activism were much more likely to say they'd voted.

Vol. 38, Issue 24, Page 5

Published in Print: March 6, 2019, as States See Surge in Young Voters
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