Category Archives: youth engagement

2010 voter turnout up, but not for youth and blacks (UPDATED)

Flickr photo by Dean Terry

Preliminary evidence suggests that voting turnout among all Americans was up in the November 2010 election.  Compared with the last non-presidential election (2006), both voting turnout experts (Curtis Gans and Michael McDonald) agree that turnout among eligible voters rose 1.1-1.2 percentage points (based on preliminary estimates that will obviously change as all ballots are counted and certified). Regardless of whether one likes the outcome in 2010, it is civic good news that more Americans got involved.

Preliminary evidence suggests electoral turnout rose in at least nine states, and significantly in Texas, Florida and Minnesota.  Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states, seems to have experienced a turnout decline.  [Curtis Gans projects voting turnout at 42 percent of registered voters; Michael McDonald believes that 41.5% of voting-eligible Americans turned out to vote.]  Note: McDonald has now lowered his turnout estimate 1.2 percentage points to 40.3% (VEP Highest Office Turnout, as of 11/8/10).

But the bad news is what voices are being heard or not heard. Voting turnout rates were down among young voters (18-29) and blacks made up a lower percentage of voters in 2010 than in 2008 when Obama’s candidacy excited African-Americans to vote.  For example, blacks made up 12% of voters in 2008 and appeared to make up just 10% of voters in 2010 (based on exit polls).  This drop, if it holds up in more authoritative numbers like the Current Population Survey would  negate this encouraging finding reported in 2008 that the black-white voting gap had disappeared.    [Exit polls suggest that Hispanics maintained their share of the electorate, rising from 7% in 2008 to 8% in 2010, although one would have to compare this rise against their expanding voting-eligible numbers to truly understand whether their political voice was diluted, and if so, how much.]  It wasn’t a simple story of the richest folks’ accounting for more of the votes, since those earning $100,000 or more accounted for 26% of the votes in both 2008 and 2010, but due to the elimination of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United case, the wealthy disproportionately had chances to influence election outcomes even before voters got to their polling places.

[For information on 2008 turnout, click here.]

Impact of civics education on voting

Flickr photo by Eric Langhorst

Jennifer Bachner (Harvard Government department PhD student) has a recent paper From Classroom to Voting Booth: The Effect of High School Civic Education on Turnout on the impact of civics education on voting.  Moreover, the paper suggests that civics education may help to level the political playing field since the gains in voting are greatest among those who have not been socialized by their families to vote.  33 States now require such civics classes (American Government/Civics) and many more school districts offer such classes.   Almost 80% of US high school graduates have taken a minimum of 0.5 credits in such classes, up from 62% in 1982.

Her research uses the NELS data (National Educational Longitudinal Surveys) of 1998 and 2002 and tracks voting in the national 1992-2006 elections.  She controls for baseline interest in politics and involvement in extra-curriculars, parents’ level of political socialization of their child (discussion of politics and whether they subscribe to a newpaper), the quality of the school in which the child attends, and the child’s race and gender, and parents’ native language and level of education.

Abstract follows:

A healthy democracy requires a citizenry that participates in political life. While interventions such as removing barriers to registration and mobilizing partisans have received frequent scholarly attention, formal civic education has been largely ignored.  Using longitudinal data and a matching analysis, this paper shows that students who complete a year of coursework in American Government/Civics are 3-6 percentage points more likely to vote in an election following high school than those without exposure to civic education.  Further, this effect is magnified among students whose parents are not highly politicized.  Among students who report not discussing politics with their parents, additional coursework is associated with a 7-11 percentage point increase in the probability of voting.  This result suggests that civic education compensates for a relative lack of political socialization at home, and thereby enhances participatory equality.

Note: She finds consistent results, regardless of whether she uses matched or unmatched data;  she uses matching to ensure that those who get the civics classes and those who don’t look as similar as possible to each other on their propensity to get involved politically.

No gap in black-white turnout in 2008 elections; youth gap narrowing

pewturnoutgraph-050109The Pew Research Center, in partnership with CIRCLE released a report showing that Asians, Hispanics and Blacks voted in record numbers in the 2008 election, partially spurred by the magnetic candidacy of Barack Obama.  America’s three biggest minority groups — blacks, Hispanics and Asians — comprised almost a quarter of all voters for president in 2008. The increases in minority voting were driven by increases both in numbers of voters and the rate of election turnout.

The second table shows especially large increases in the turnout rate among blacks, and especially black women (not charted), although all non-white groups showed increases.  [Black turnout rose from 60% in 2004 to 65% in 2008, virtually indistinguishable from the voting rates of whites at 66%.]

68.8% of eligible black female voters voted in 2008 (an increase of 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004), so that black women were the highest voting of any racial-gender pairing.

pewturnoutgraph2-050109So the interesting takeaway from all this was that although the voting rate in November (despite all the money spent on the campaign and the telegenic candidacy of Obama) was relatively unchanged, but the composition of the voters definitely did change, with whites continuing to disengage and non-whites becoming more active.

The region of the country that saw the most dramatic increases in black voter turnout rate was in the South.

Obviously the $1,000,000 question is whether these behavioral changes are likely to continue beyond the Obama candidacy.  One piece of good news for those interested in seeing non-white voting rates continue to rise, is the behavior of younger Americans, as youth tend to keep the civic habits they demonstrate in their teens and twenties.  And this was also good news, especially for blacks.

CIRCLE’s analysis revealed that the “youth gap” ( younger Americans voting at lower rates than older Americans) continued to shrink in 2008. [For example, voters 18-29 voted at rates 24 percentage points less than Americans 30 and older in 2000 but this narrowed to a gap of 16 percentage points less in 2008.]  But minorities also saw good news in the turnout of various ethnic groups.  Young black adults’ voting rates (ages 18-29) increased by 17% from 49.5% in 2004 to 58.2% in 2008.  For the first time, the turnout among 18-29 year old blacks was higher than any other racial and ethnic group in 2008.  While white youth voting rates were relatively flat from 2004 to 2008, mixed race youth voting at 55%, almost 10 percentage points higher than in 2004 (perhaps motivated by voting for a mixed-race president).  Latino and Asian turnout rates continued to increase, but they significantly trailed turnout rates of whites, mixed race and black youth voters.  (The only youth group to see a decline in voting rates in 2008 was Native American Non-Hispanics.)

So the increases in youth turnout, if they persist could help change the distortion in our democratic process toward politicians being more responsive to the needs of older voters, and if non-white voters continue to increase their voting turnout rates and white turnout rates continue to decline, this may also start to change the voices heard in the democratic process.

See also: No Racial Gap Seen in ’08 Turnout (NYT, 5/1/09)

Updated 2008 Voter Turnout, Registration and Youth Turnout Figures

(Ironically Paris Hilton neither voted nor died in 2008)

(Ironically Paris Hilton neither voted nor died in 2008)

Voter Turnout:  Despite earlier reports that 2008 election turnout may have exceeded 1964 rates and rivaled 1960, Curtis Gans (an expert at American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate) now estimates that the percentage of eligible citizens in the 2008 presidential election was virtually unchanged from 2004 (126.5-128.5 million Americans, or 60.7-61.7%).  [Read Gans report on voter turnout here.]  Michael McDonald at GMU continues to believe turnout numbers will be higher, but thinks the rate will fall in the band that Gans predicts.  McDonald projects turnout to be 130.4 million Americans or 61.2%, a 1.1% increase over 2004, and the highest since 1968.  [See McDonald's blog post here.] Gans and McDonald differ on the numerator (Americans who voted) and denominator (eligible Americans), and the latter difference focuses on the fact that “voter-eligibility” can be tinkered with state by state, depending on how often the state or localities scrub their voting lists to eliminate people who have died, moved, or are no longer eligible to vote.

Registration:  Curtis Gans estimates that 73.5% of Americans are now registered to vote, breaking the previous record of 72.5% of Americans in 1964.  Estimated registration for the 2008 general election increased by a moderate 2.5 percentage points; Gans believes that registration rates back when women were given the vote in 1920 may have been still higher. [Read Gans registration report.]

Youth Turnout:  CIRCLE projects that a record number of young people (19-29) voted in 2008, in terms of numbers (22.8-23.1 million Americans) and the highest percentage of youth turnout since 1972 (52-53%).   (CIRCLE’s figures are based on exit polling, which can then be compared with what youth report on the Current Population Survey, once it becomes available in the Spring).   [As one would expect, youth turnout and turnout of those over 30 years old was heavier in battleground states.]

As we noted in “Why Republicans Are So Worried“, youth favored Obama by an unprecedented more than 2:1 ratio; as CIRCLE observes “The average age-gap in support for the Democratic candidate from 1976 through 2004 was only 1.8 percentage points, as young voters basically supported the same candidate as older voters in most elections.”

And CIRCLE believes that the increased youth turnout of 18-29 year olds represented 60% of the increase in voting from 2004 to 2008.

To see the whole CIRCLE youth turnout post, click here.

See Pew Research Report on “Young voters in the 2008 election“.