Analysis: College student voting increased in 2016

Analysis of nearly 10 million college student voting records; turnout increases high among Asian and Hispanic students; women voted at higher rates than men, but gender gap held steady; voting rates varied by state and field of study


MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Sept. 20, 2017) -- College and university students voted at a higher rate in 2016 than in 2012, according to a study from Tufts University’s Tisch College, which today released an analysis of the voting patterns of millions of students. In the wake of the most divisive national election in recent history, and at a time of vigorous debates on campuses about free speech and activism, this first-of-its-kind study sheds light on the political engagement of nearly 10 million students on over 1,000 campuses in all 50 states.

Overall college-student turnout increased by more than three percentage points—from 45.1% to 48.3%—from 2012 to 2016. Compared to the general U.S. population of 18 to 24-year-olds, college-student turnout was somewhat higher in both 2012 and 2016 and increased slightly more between elections. The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts’ Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life examines the de-identified voting records of nearly half of all de

gree-seeking college students in the country and is demographically similar to the overall population enrolled in higher education.

A summary of the findings is here; full analysis is here.

Major research findings include:

  • Turnout rose: Overall, NSLVE students voted at a higher rate in 2016 than 2012 by about three percentage points, rising from 45.1% to 48.3%. Relative to the turnout of the general U.S. population of 18 to 24-year-olds, college-student turnout was somewhat higher in both election years and increased slightly more between elections.
  • Women voted more, but gender gap did not widen: In general, women tend to vote at higher rates than men, and this was true in 2016 among students in the NSLVE study. However, the gender gap was not significantly larger in 2016 than in 2012. Women voted at rates nearly seven percentage points higher than men in both elections.
  • Hispanic and Asian turnout up; Black turnout down from a high baseline: Turnout increases were especially large among Hispanic and Asian students, but Black student turnout decreased by five percentage points, albeit from a high baseline in 2012. Hispanic college students voting increased seven percentage points: 38.9% (2012) to 45.9% (2016).
  • Social science majors voted at significantly higher rates than STEM majors: Voting rates increased in all academic fields of study, but students majoring in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) voted at the lowest rate. In 2016, students majoring in social sciences voted at 53.2% compared to STEM majors, who voted at 43.6%
  • State and regional differences emerged: On average, at the state level, voting rates at institutions in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania tended to increase the most, and institutions in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Mississippi had the largest declines.

“College and university students can shape our politics, our policies, and our nation’s future, and voting is one important way they engage. While we are encouraged by the increase in voting rates on many campuses in 2016, students still lag behind other groups, and we continue to see disparities across geography, age, gender, fields of study, and particularly race and ethnicity,” says Nancy Thomas, Director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College, which runs the NSLVE study. “Colleges and universities carry the potential and the responsibility to create environments that encourage civic and political engagement and cultivate in students the knowledge, skills, and commitment they need for lifelong participation in our shared democracy.”

In the coming months, the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education will be using NSLVE data to examine important factors in campus political learning and voting, including changes to election laws, technical barriers to voting, campus climate and student activism, gender, racial and socioeconomic diversity, and campaign outreach, issues, and messaging.

NSLVE researchers are available for interviews. Media outlets should contact: Jen McAndrew at or 617 627-2029/781 605-9917.

(Editors/producers please note: NSLVE is pronounced “N-Solve.”)


The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) is a study of U.S. college and university student voting. Currently, the database consists of de-identified records for 9,511,711 and 9,784,931 students enrolled at the time of the 2012 and 2016 elections, respectively. These students attended 1,023 higher education institutions in the U.S. across all 50 states. Participating institutions give NSLVE permission for their student enrollment records to be matched with public voting records, yielding precise data on their students’ turnout. NSLVE is the signature initiative of Tisch College’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE). The Institute seeks to shift institutional priorities, practices, and culture to strengthen democracy and advance social and political equity. Learn more: and @TuftsIDHE.

The only university-wide college of its kind, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life offers transformational student learning and service opportunities, conducts groundbreaking research on young people’s civic and political participation, and forges innovative community partnerships. Its work is guided by two core beliefs: that communities, nations and the world are stronger, more prosperous, and more just when citizens actively participate in civic and democratic life; and that higher education has a responsibility to develop the next generation of active citizens. Learn more: and @TischCollege.

Tufts University located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized as one of the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.

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