In almost every state (with the exception of North Dakota) citizens are required to register before they can vote. Voter turnout rates are positively correlated with voter registration in the 2008 election (and in past elections, except for 1972). Recently we reported that voter turnout among registered college students in 2008 was 87%. Subsequently, we were asked if that dynamic held true for youth with no college experience. There has been a historic gap in youth voter turnout between those youth with different levels of formal educational experience. The same pattern holds for registration as well: slightly less than half of young people age 18-29 without college experience were registered to vote in the 2008 election – however – among those who were registered, over 3/4 turned out to the polls. This is also the case for those who were 18-24 in the 2008 elections.
So why is this important? It shows that major differences in voting by age may, at least somewhat, be explained by the differences in registration rates. Voter registration is a critical first step in mobilizing young people to be involved in the political process. It is by no means the only step, but it should provide reason for political parties, policymakers and youth groups to break down barriers to registration, as well as engage youth in the registration process as early as possible. (In 2008. 21% of 18-to 29 year-olds who did not register to vote stated that they did not meet the registration deadlines in their states).
This figure shows 2008 registration and turnout rates for citizens with no college experience, by age