Exclusive Analysis: College Student Voting Doubled in 2018

Study of 10 million college students shows national surge in voting in 2018 midterms; black women are most active voters on campuses; Hispanic students’ voting rate shows largest increase

Two students in blue t-shirts fill in an electoral map of the United States with blue and red markers on election night 2018.

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Sept. 19, 2019)College-student voting rates in the 2018 midterm elections doubled compared to the 2014 midterms, marking a watershed election year for student voter turnout, according to a report today from the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. The report, Democracy Counts 2018, is based on an analysis of the voting patterns of more than 10 million college students on more than 1,000 campuses participating in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE).

In 2018, the Average Institutional Voting Rate (AIVR) among campuses in the study was 39.1 percent, nearly 20 percentage points higher than 2014’s average turnout rate of 19.7 percent. Turnout increases were widespread, with virtually all campuses seeing an increase over 2014.

Major research findings include:​​

  • In the 2018 midterm elections, college students turned out to vote at double the rate of the last midterm. Across all students in the study, the National Student Voting Rate (NSVR) in 2018 was 40.3 percent. Remarkably, this 2018 student turnout was closer to the NSLVE-estimated voting rate for the 2016 presidential election–51.3 percent–than to the previous midterm in 2014–19.3 percent;
  • According to the U.S. Elections Project, the voting rate among all Americans increased 13 percentage points in 2018 as compared to the prior midterm. By comparison, the college and university National Student Voting Rate (NSVR) rose 21 percentage points;
  • In 2018, the voting rates of 99 percent of campuses in the study increased from the 2014 midterms, and nearly half of all institutions saw their rate increase between 15-24 percentage points;
  • Women in college continued to vote at higher rates than men in 2018, with black women maintaining their position as the most active voters on campus, and Hispanic women making the largest gains;
  • The largest voting rate increase across racial/ethnic groups was among Hispanic students, up 22.5 percentage points and more than doubling–from 14 percent in 2014 to 36.5 percent in 2018;
  • While older Americans historically vote at higher rates than their younger counterparts, 2018 data showed a trend toward age parity. The turnout gap between students over 30 and those under 22 narrowed from 22.3 percentage points to 16.9 points;
  • There was relative consistency in voting rates between students attending two-year, four-year, public or private institutions. Women’s colleges continued to vote at the highest rates among institutional types, but two-year, four-year, public, and private institutions showed consistent upward movement between 2014 and 2018; and,
  • Voting gaps between disciplines persisted in 2018. Turnout among students in STEM fields, as well as those majoring in business, lag behind students studying the humanities, social sciences, and education.

“At a time of increased activism and voter participation by all Americans, today’s report highlights even greater interest among college students. It marks a watershed election year for student voter turnout, including promising progress in narrowing some persistent turnout gaps,” said Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University’s Tisch College. “College students today are more diverse than ever, and while they are not a monolithic group, they represent a formidable voting bloc of nearly 20 million.”

“While more work remains to fulfill higher education’s mission to educate for democracy, it is clear that colleges and universities provide a valuable space for political learning, civic engagement and electoral participation,” continued Thomas. “Being for democracy is not a partisan agenda.”

Today’s report is based on the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), conducted by IDHE, which is the only national study of college-student voting. NSLVE examines voter turnout by comparing college campuses of different regions and types, and by comparing across student demographics and fields of study. It is based on the voting records of more than 10 million students at more than 1,000 colleges and universities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; IDHE does not receive any information that could individually identify students or how they voted. The study provides reports to participating colleges and universities, which will be distributed this week and used to support political learning and civic engagement, as well as to identify and address gaps in political and civic participation.

In the coming months, Tisch College researchers will use these data to examine important factors in campus political learning and voting in the run-up to the 2020 elections and beyond.

Researchers are available for interviews and/or analysis. Please contact Jen McAndrew at jennifer.mcandrew@tufts.edu or 617 627-2029.

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Part of Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) is an applied research center focused on college and university student political learning and engagement in democracy. IDHE researchers study student voting, equity, campus conditions for student political learning, discourse, participation, and agency for underrepresented and marginalized students. IDHE's signature initiative, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, or NSLVE, (https://idhe.tufts.edu/nslve) is a service to colleges and universities that provides participating institutions with tailored reports of their students' voting rates. Launched in 2013 with 250 campuses, the study now serves more than 1,000 institutions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The only university-wide college of its kind, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life (http://tischcollege.tufts.edu/) 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.

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among 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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