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Political Participation & Voting

"Political Participation" includes voting, protesting, lobbying, trying to persuade others to vote, and many other activities.

Youth Voter Turnout Sharply Up for 2006 Midterm Elections

CIRCLE issues a fact sheet showing:

  • Turnout among 18-29 year-olds increased for the second major election in a row.
  • Young adults voted for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate in races for the House of Representatives (58% vs. 38%), the Senate (60% vs. 33%) and governor (55% vs. 34%).

Click here to download the fact sheet.

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Youth Voting in Past Midterm Elections: State-by-State Analysis

CIRCLE has released historical data on the midterm cycles nationwide and by state since 1974. In 2002, the three states with the highest level of youth voter turnout were Minnesota (45 percent), South Dakota (36 percent), and Alaska (34 percent). In contrast, the three states with the lowest voter turnout rates among young people in 2002 were Delaware (15 percent), West Virginia (15 percent) and Arizona (14 percent). State and national fact sheets can be found at here.

Note: Historical youth voting estimates for midterm elections are based on the Census Current Population Survey (CPS). Similar estimates for 2006 will not be available until 2007 when Census releases the 2006 CPS. However, using exit polls and vote tallies CIRCLE has provided a preliminary estimate of youth participation in the 2006 midterm elections at the NATIONAL level. Similar estimates are available for 1994 and 2002. Please click here for more information.

 

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What Works: Getting Young People to the Polls

A new report from CIRCLE and Young Voter Strategies analyzes specific get-out-the-vote tactics to uncover what works, what doesn't and what the tactics cost per vote.

Among the report's key findings:

  • Personalized and interactive contact counts. The most effective way of getting a new voter is the in-person door knock by a peer; the least effective is an automated phone call. Canvassing costs $11 to $14 per new vote, followed closely by phone banks at $10 to $25 per new vote. Robocalls mobilize so few voters that they cost $275 per new vote. (These costs are figured per vote that would not be cast without the mobilizing effort.)
  • Begin with the basics. Telling a new voter where to vote, when to vote and how to use the voting machines increases turnout.
  • The medium is more important than the message. Partisan and nonpartisan, negative and positive messages seem to work about the same. The important factor is the degree to which the contact is personalized.
  • In ethnic and immigrant communities, start young. Young voters in these communities are easier to reach, are more likely to speak English (cutting down translation costs), and are the most effective messengers within their communities.
  • Initial mobilization produces repeat voters. If an individual has been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to return. So, getting young people to vote early could be key to raising a new generation of voters.
  • Leaving young voters off contact lists is a costly mistake. Some campaigns still bypass young voters, but research shows they respond cost-effectively when contacted.

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Facts on Youth Voting in the 2004 Election
For quick facts on youth voting see the following fact sheets and press releases:

Need more quick facts on youth voting? Click here to view full list of Fact Sheets.

For a technical explanation of how CIRCLE calculates voter turnout please see CIRCLE Working Paper 35: The Youth Vote 2004: With a Historical Look at Youth Voting Patterns, 1972-2004.

CIRCLE's Youth Voting State Map allows you to compare youth voting statistics from 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2004 for all 50 states and also includes state-by-state information on youth demographics, and registration and voting laws.

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Improving Web Outreach to Young Voters

A recent CIRCLE study by W. Lance Bennett and Mike Xenos entitled "Young Voters and the Web of Politics 2004: The Youth Political Web Sphere Comes of Age" updates information provided in a similar study done in 2002.

Research by Lance Bennett and Michael Xenos introduces a "network-analysis of nonpartisan youth electoral engagement web sites." Their new working paper examines the role and growth of websites during the 2004 Presidential election. The authors find that information on voter registration, events and on-site election information have all increased since 2002. The whole array of youth-oriented election websites has also become better integrated.

For the new Bennett and Xenos Working Paper and key findings and best practices (with screenshots) from their previous work on youth voting websites, visit this page.

Take an online tour of the Key Findings & Best Practices from 2002

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Census Data Shows Youth Voter Turnout Surged More Than Any Other Age Group in 2004!

The increase in turnout by the youngest voters, age 18-24, was higher than any other age group, making it a significant and disproportionate factor in the overall jump in the number of Americans going to the polls last fall, according to CIRCLE analysis of Census Bureau data. The analysis shows that the voter turnout rate among voters under age 25 jumped 11 points, from 36 to 47 percent, from 2000 to 2004. The overall voter turnout rate grew by about four points, from 60 to 64 percent. Click here to read the press release.

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The Gap Between Service and Politics: A Candid Discussion Between Young People and Politicians

Research shows that young people are leading the way in volunteering, but falling behind in political participation. In January 2004, college students in Wisconsin were invited to join U.S. Representatives Tammy Baldwin and Mark Green at The Johnson Foundation's Wingspread Conference Center to discuss the disconnect between service and politics. Findings from the meeting are contained in CIRCLE Working Paper 27: From the Horse's Mouth: A Dialogue Between Politicians and College Students.

The Working Paper suggests that one way to increase youth involvement in politics may be to develop more models that allow students the opportunity to engage in realistic political exercises through their schools or other places of civic education. Students noted that working in a soup kitchen prepared them for service work, but it did not prepare them to advocate for policies to decrease homelessness. To work on these policies, students need opportunities engage in the realities of politics, including partisanship, without advancing one side or the other. Several other recommendations and insights can be found in the paper.

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The Summer Canvass: A New Form of Civic Engagement

Every summer, thousands of young people in the United States work for non-profit organizations in what is called the "summer canvass." Through the canvass, young people spend their summer vacations recruiting and renewing memberships for social movement organizations. CIRCLE Working Paper 26: Civic Engagement and the Canvass explores what motivates young people to become summer canvassers. The research shows that canvassers are significantly more civically engaged than the general population of young people in the United States even up to a year after their canvassing experience. The report also offers recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the canvass program.

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Youth Turnout Up Sharply in 2004!

A new CIRCLE Fact Sheet shows that the turnout rate of 18-24 year old voters rose by 5.8 percentage points, as 1.8 million more people in this age group voted than in 2000. Last week, 10.5 million under-25 voters went to the polls, compared to 8.7 million four years ago, raising the turnout rate to 42.3% from 36.5%. Included in the Fact Sheet is information about first-time voters, issues that are important to young voters, and which candidate the majority preferred.

Also read CIRCLE's Nov. 3 Release on Youth Voting in 2004 (4.6 million more 18-29s voted in 2004, turnout up by 9.3 points)

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Increasing Youth Voting Through Interactive Technology

One way to increase youth political participation and interest in politics may be through interactive technology. An exploratory study tested whether presenting campaign information in an interactive, entertaining manner increases youth political interest, efficacy, and participation.

To test this hypothesis the researchers conducted a randomized experiment where students were divided into three groups- two treatment groups and a control group. The first treatment group received an "adult" version of a CD containing extensive information about the 2002 California gubernatorial election in an e-book format. The second treatment group received a "youth" version of the CD with the same information contained in the adult version but supplemented with a variety of interactive games, contests and quizzes.

They found that young people who used the interactive, youth version of the CD voted at a higher rate, showed more interest in the campaign, and expressed greater faith in the act of voting than young people who did not receive the CD. The research was conducted by Stanto Iyengar and Simon Jackman of Stanford University. The complete findings can be found in CIRCLE Working Paper 24 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation.

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2004 Election: Polling Data on Young Voters

CIRCLE Fact Sheet: The 2004 Presidential Election and Young Voters presents evidence from polls on the views, political partisanship, and top issues of young people in the 2004 presidential race. Young people's interest in this year's presidential election is at its highest since 1992. According to a September MTV/CIRCLE poll conducted by CBS News, 81 percent of young registered voters are paying close attention to the campaign, compared to 85 percent in 1992, the last time youth voter turnout broke its decline. Among young people, support for specific candidates has varied, and at this point in the race, it is unclear who will win the youth vote. Furthermore, young people cannot easily be classified as Republican, Democrat or Independent; no single political party dominates the youth vote.

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What is Working in 2004 to Attract Young Voters

A new report, The Fountain of Youth: Political Parties and the Mobilization of Young Americans, details the most successful efforts by political parties to mobilize the youth vote at the national, state, and county levels. The report is the second of two reports by CIRCLE grantees, Dr. Daniel M. Shea, Director of the College Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College and John C. Green of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Using survey data as a starting place, during the summer of 2004 the authors conducted interviews with a few dozen political party leaders who seemed to be doing innovative work to attract young voters.

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Cost Effective Ways to Mobilize Young Voters on Election Day

A study by Donald P. Green of Yale University found that personally contacting young people on Election Day can significantly increase youth voter turnout, but only if they've already expressed interest in voting. The study is an evaluation of an extensive experiment conducted surrounding last fall's elections in New Jersey. It was designed to see what gains could be made when young voters contacted leading up to the election were urged to vote on Election Day.

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Youth Voting in the 2004 Battleground States

A CIRCLE Fact Sheet shows the impact the youth vote could have nationally and in the 20 key battleground states. With nearly 41 million eligible 18-29 year old voters - one-fifth of the electorate - and divided political preferences, this voting bloc could make a difference in the battleground states. The number of eligible young voters ranges from a high of more than two million in Florida to 172,000 in New Hampshire. Moreover, the greatest growth in the number of new young voters since 1992 has been in Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and New Mexico, each of which have gained more than 100,000 young voters.

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Getting Out the Asian American Vote in Los Angeles County
A study by Janelle Wong examines the effectiveness of voter outreach efforts in high-density Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, and Japanese American communities Los Angeles County. The research shows that the effects of phone and mail canvassing vary greatly by ethnicity and geographic area. This type of canvassing was most effective in mobilizing Chinese Americans living in West San Gabriel Valley, an active predominantly Chinese American community. In addition, the study suggests when mobilizing Asian American voters by phone and mail, it is important to address language diversity. Of those successfully contacted through this study the preference for speaking a language other than English ranged from 5% among Indian Americans to over 60% of Korean Americans.

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State Voter Registration and Election Day Laws
CIRCLE's new Fact Sheet presents information on the various types of state voting laws as well as their estimated impact on youth voter turnout. Laws that make it easier to register and vote seem to have a significant impact on youth voter turnout. For example, on average youth voter turnout was 14 percentage points higher in Presidential years in states with Election-Day registration.

For more information, the Fact Sheet is based in part on the following two reports:

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    Mobilizing the Youth Vote: What Local Political Party Leaders Are and Aren't Doing

    Research shows that local political parties are doing very little to attract young voters. Roughly nine-in-ten (88 percent) party leaders say youth political engagement is a serious problem. A similar portion (93 percent) feel local parties can make a big difference in getting young people involved in politics. However, among the 41 percent of party leaders that claim to have developed specific get-out-the-vote programs for young voters, a vast majority of programs they cited as examples might be dubbed "modest" and "traditional."

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    Getting Out the Youth Vote

    "Get Out the Vote! How to Increase Voter Turnout", a new book by Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, is a practical guide for anyone trying to mobilize voters or organize at the grass roots. The book uses results from CIRCLE-funded field experiments to show that old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning can be a surprisingly effective and affordable get-out-the-vote tactic. Green and Gerber have found that phone canvassing increases turnout by an average of five percent points, and face-to-face canvassing increases turnout by 8.5 points. Canvassing young people also slightly increases turnout among adults living with them. Read the transcript from the CIRCLE/Brookings briefing featuring Donald Green and a panel of respondents.

    In addition, the Youth Vote Coalition has recently released a how-to guide on mobilizing young voters entitled "Youth Vote Coalition's Best Practices Handbook in Nonpartisan Voter Mobilization". The handbook is a compilation of campaign experiences from twelve Youth Vote Coalition field sites nationwide. The handbook is based on research conducted by Youth Vote Coalition and Yale University.
    Funding for the project was provided by CIRCLE.

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    Different Voting Methods Affect Turnout

    It seems states implementing new more convenient voting laws witnessed increases in youth voter turnout. Most notably, young people are considerably more likely to vote if they are able to register to vote on Election Day.

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    Young People Express their Views in Many Ways
    Please see "How Young People Express Their Political Views," by Michael Olander, which draws from the Civic and Political Health of the Nation report to provide detailed statistics about how young people contact elected officials, boycott products, raise money for causes, and otherwise express their views.

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    Young People Are Voting Less
    Measuring young people's voting raises difficult issues, and there is not a single clearly correct turnout figure for youth in any given year. However, the electoral participation of Americans under the age of 25 has declined since 1972, when 18-to-21-year-olds were first permitted to vote. The size of the decline in presidential-election years is between 13 and 15 percentage points (depending on the method of calculation). This is a significant drop, greater than the decline among older Americans.

    For much more information (including an explanation of methodological issues, 15 graphs, and data tables), please click here to read our fact sheet. Or click below for an example of one graph from the fact sheet:


    Youth Voter Turnout is Down in Presidential Years
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    Some Reasons for Voting and Non-Voting

    CIRCLE's analysis of our 2002 National Youth Survey indicates that "efficacy", the sense that one can make a difference, has a powerful correlation with voting:

    Factors Related to Voter Registration
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    Young Adult Voting Perceptions
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    Parental Socialization is Strong Predictor
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    The following CIRCLE Fact Sheets provide information on youth voting: