CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
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How to Understand Youth Voting Data

As Election Day approaches, CIRCLE is compiling historical data and preparing for our day-after youth voter turnout analysis. Two statistics that will be a part of the conversation about young voters are the youth share of all voters and youth voter turnout.

While both data points say something about the role of young voters in the election, we have to be careful not to confuse the two, because they represent different information and can reflect different dynamics.

Youth Share of the Electorate

The youth share of the electorate is reported on election night through the national exit poll. This data point – 18% in 2008 – shows the percentage of people who voted who are young people (18-29 years old). It is an estimate, based on the system that the exit poll company has set up. In past years, it has often been recalculated and adjusted several times in the first 24 hours after an election.

The youth share of the electorate does not indicate how many youth voted and is not a direct reflection of an increase or decrease in youth voter turnout. The youth share can be influenced by dynamics not related to the youth who turn out to vote.  The size of the youth population as a whole, regardless of how many voted, has an impact on the youth share. Similarly, the size of other age groups and the turnout of other age groups have influence on the youth share. The youth share of the electorate can stay the same while youth voter turnout rises (as has happened several times in the past).

Youth Voter Turnout

Youth voter turnout is the only statistic that directly reflects the participation rate of youth. Youth turnout represents the percentage of all youth eligible to vote who actually voted.

Youth turnout has been on the rise in every Presidential Election since 1996. CIRCLE provides the only estimate of youth voter turnout, which we release on the day-after the election, until Census data are released in the winter/spring.

One Response to “How to Understand Youth Voting Data”

  1. exclusive youth turnout estimates from CIRCLE « Peter Levine Says:

    [...] so they are punching at close to their weight. However, share does not equal turnout, as our handy graphic reveals. Stay tuned tomorrow for our actual turnout estimate, at [...]

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