Youth Vote Posts Strong Showing in 2012 Elections, in California and Nationally

Media Contacts
Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network


New expert estimates indicate that turnout of young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 will likely exceed 50 percent in yesterday’s national election.  This strong showing places 2012 on par with record 2008 turnout rates and bucks predictions of a precipitous drop-off in young voter participation.  

“Despite months of hand-wringing about a supposed young voter enthusiasm gap,” said CALPIRG State Director Emily Rusch, “yesterday’s results show that young people are willing to engage in our democracy, particularly if encouraged to do so.”

According to data released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) today, 22-23 million young Americans, or at least 49 percent, voted in Tuesday’s presidential election. When precincts with outstanding vote counts deliver their tallies, youth turnout may reach 51 percent.  

Compared to turnout rates in the previous decade, youth participation in national elections over the past several election cycles have shown remarkable gains.  According to U.S. Census reports, youth turnout in the 1996 presidential cycle reached just 37 percent in the 1996 national elections and only 41 percent in 2000.  

Coupled with an increase in the youth share of the national electorate from 18 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2012, today’s reported strong youth turnout rates once again highlight the importance of engaging young people in elections. 

In California, young voters make up an even higher percentage of the total voting population. CNN exit polls report that in California, 18-29 year-old voters made up 27 percent of the electorate.

“Political prognosticators should look at 2012 and once and for all stop cynical forecasts that predict young people will opt out of the political system en masse,” said Rusch.  “Instead, we should take home the lesson that reaching out to young people where they are, making it easy to engage in politics and paying attention to the issues they care about, works!”

In California, younger voters, particularly college students, were directly appealed to by politicians including Gov. Jerry Brown. CALPIRG’s New Voters’ Project also mobilized hundreds of student volunteers to make over 80,000 get-out-the vote contacts to their peers in person, by phone, and by text message in the final days leading up to the Election. 

According to expert analysis, young voter mobilization programs that maximize the peer to peer vote contacts, highlight issues of importance to young people and leverage technology to reach them on their computers and phones can significantly increase youth turnout rates on Election Day.   Since 2004, partisan and non partisan campaigns have significantly increased their efforts to reach young people through these methods and are credited as a large reason for the rising youth vote trend witnessed over the past several election cycles. 

Preliminary results provided by local elections officials indicate that turnout at many student-dominated precincts at campuses targeted by the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project this election cycle demonstrated significant increases in youth turnout over 2008.  For instance:

•         At Florida State University, Precinct 1507 showed a 29 percent increase

•         The University of Maryland STAMP voting center demonstrated a 48 percent increase over 2008

•         North Carolina State University’s Wake Precinct showed a 13 percent increase

•         Precinct 48 at the University of Texas, Dallas demonstrated a 46 percent increase

•         University of Massachusetts Amherst Precinct 3, for instance showed a 29 percent increase over 2008.

 “Young people are just like any other voter,” concluded Rusch.  “When you pay attention to them, they will show up on Election Day.”

staff | TPIN

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