Social Studies

Mounting Evidence Points to Surge in Young Voters

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 21, 2019 2 min read
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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 it when you have 17 data points all tilting in the same direction?

Well, you might have what can genuinely be called a youth voting surge: New data shows that voting rates in the 2018 midterm elections for 18- to 29 year-olds increased in all of the 17 states studied 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 wth competitive statewide races, youth turnout was higher, and usually that outpaced general turnout,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, CIRCLE’s director.

And if it’s too soon to call this a definitive nationwide phenomenon, it’s nevertheless heartening.

CIRCLE has done yeoman’s work collecting and analyzing the results of the midterm elections for the youth-turnout patterns. (See our previous reporting on election results for some of the reasons why this is much more difficult to do than you’d think.)

Its latest results put the phenomenon in greater context than before. (Some of the figures differ slightly from CIRCLE’s earlier analyses, because of updates to the population estimates.)

Here are some of the most interesting 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 Senate seat race. (Keep in mind, too, because it has a small population, relatively small changes in voter behavior can affect numbers more dramatically than in a state like California or Texas.)
  • 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 has low voter-turnout rates. Also, context matters: the Pelican State did not have a single statewide race and all incumbents won re-election.

Did the extraordinary youth activism post Parkland affect matters? Possibly.

We still don’t have a good sense of just how the subset of 18- and 19-year-olds voted. And that would be good to know because they’re the direct age peers of the core Parkland activists—and the demographic group who logically should have been most moved by the Parkland students’ call to action.

But 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 in the election, which lends credence to the idea.


A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.