Here's Why the Youth Vote in the 2020 Election Matters

BY LILY BARTIN AND EMILY RIVERA   OCT. 10, 2020
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What’s the youth voter turnout been like?

Young Americans (those between the ages of 18 and 29) vote at the lowest rate of any other age group.1 Though they tend to have low turnout, young voters make up a significant portion of the eligible population. In the projected 2020 electorate, young people between the ages of 18 and 23 account for one-in-ten eligible voters.2 These projections indicate an increase in the percentage of voters within Generation Z, whereas each other generation decreases.3


Why has young voter turnout historically been so low?

The U.S. has one of the lowest youth voter turnout rates among global democracies. This is due in part to the relatively complex process by which young people must register to vote for the first time. Many first time voters express frustration or confusion in the registration process, which may cause them to forgo it altogether.4 Additionally, many young voters express disillusionment with the electoral system in general. For this reason, young people don’t even feel that their vote matters enough to cast.5


What efforts have been made to appeal to young voters?

Even though they present disproportionately low turnout, because young voters make up such a large percentage of the electorate, candidates increasingly court their votes. Inspiring turnout among young voters would significantly benefit either the Biden or Trump campaign in the upcoming election, and each is making an effort to appeal to that audience.

Biden has repeatedly emphasized that the concerns of young Americans are a central part of his campaign, and has spoken out on issues like the student debt crisis.6

The Trump campaign similarly featured Tiffany Trump making a direct appeal to young voters in a recent speech, urging millennials like herself to support her father in the upcoming election.7


What impact could young voters have on this election?

Millenials and Gen-Z make up more than half of the nation’s total population.8

As a result, when young voters turned out in the 2018 midterm elections at almost twice the rate of the previous 2014 midterm elections,9 they likely strongly influenced the subsequent results.

In a similar trend, the percentage of young Americans who plan to vote in 2020 far exceeds the 47% who planned to vote in the 2016 election.10

A Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University data analysis ranked Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida as the top 3 states whose young voters will have the greatest impact in the 2020 presidential election.11


What challenges do young voters face?

Many colleges have opted to cancel fall breaks in order to send students home by Thanksgiving, complicating their voting plans. Plus, mail ballots pose a unique challenge for college students, as some have never used the Postal Service.

Some colleges also don’t have adequate preparations for voting. For example, the University of Texas, Austin has over 50,000 students and only facilitated two on-campus polling locations on Super Tuesday.13 Similarly, it was only last month that the University of Georgia reversed their initial decision to remove their on-campus voting site.14

In general, new court rulings in voter requirements have made it difficult for organizers to provide accurate information to potential voters.15


In a Quote:

“Young voters are tuning in and facing our nation’s challenges head first. Don’t be surprised when they turn out at the polls in historic numbers.”

—Justin Tseng, Chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project16

References

  1. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2017/05/voting_in_america.html
  2. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/an-early-look-at-the-2020-electorate/
  3. Ibid.
  4. https://theconversation.com/why-so-few-young-americans-vote-132649
  5. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51763333
  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/09/09/biden-campaign-pulls-out-all-stops-woo-young-voters/
  7. https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/rnc-2020-day-2/h_51e1bdff4c318b950a42f9f50cc7bd68?utm_medium=social&utm_source=fbCNN&utm_content=2020-08-26T01:59:48
  8. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-national-detail.html
  9. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/behind-2018-united-states-midterm-election-turnout.html#:~:text=Voter%20turnout%20went%20up%20more,group%20%E2%80%94%20a%2079%20percent%20jump
  10. https://iop.harvard.edu/about/newsletter-press-release/harvard-youth-poll-election-2020
  11. https://circle.tufts.edu/yesi2020
  12. https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/13/politics/trump-usps-funding-comments-2020-election/index.html
  13. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/college-student-vote-coronavirus/2020/10/05/e725a744-fde5-11ea-8d05-9beaaa91c71f_story.html
  14. https://www.vice.com/en/article/884ekx/young-people-arent-apathetic-theyre-facing-major-voting-obstacles
  15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/17/uga-coronavirus-voting-football/?itid=lk_inline_manual_71
  16. https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty-research/policy-topics/politics/young-voters-are-highly-motivated-flocking-biden-and