Exclusive research: Where the youth vote could matter most in 2020

New index ranks top states and districts where young voters have the highest potential to sway outcome of 2020 elections
A map of the United States highlights the states where young voters will have the largest impacts
Image courtesy of CIRCLE/Tisch College
May 11, 2020

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Jen McAndrew

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (May 11, 2020)A new index from Tufts University researchers offers insight into the potential power of the youth vote to shape the outcome of the 2020 elections across the country, ranking the top districts and states where young people could have a significant influence on the outcome of the presidential race, as well as U.S. Senate and House contests.

The 2020 Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI) was developed exclusively by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the preeminent, non-partisan research center on youth engagement at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Key findings include:

  • Youth impact spreads across the nation. Young people’s potential impact in 2020 is widespread and diverse, ranging from Maine to Florida, and from Pennsylvania to Utah. Georgia, Colorado, Kansas, Montana and Alabama all appear on CIRCLE’s indices this year, with 19 states represented overall. Young people, in many states and communities, are uniquely poised to influence the direction of the White House and both houses of Congress, although many uncertainties persist in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. All campaigns have a compelling and urgent opportunity to engage young people.
     
  • Upper Midwest is powerhouse of youth potential. Young people could make a decisive difference in elections across the Upper Midwest. Wisconsin tops the list of states where young people are poised to influence the presidential race, and Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan all make the top 10.
    • Iowa is one of only two states that appears on all three 2020 lists: 5th on CIRCLE’s presidential ranking and 6th on its index of U.S. Senate races, while also having districts that claim three of the top four spots in the U.S. House index.
    • The U.S. Senate race in Michigan, where incumbent Sen. Gary Peters faces up to three challengers in the general election, also makes CIRCLE’s top 10 list. Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, which is rated as a toss-up, does as well.
    • Michigan had a relatively high youth voter registration rate in 2018, and young people make up an above-average share of the state’s population. Youth have also voted differently than older people in Michigan, a factor that contributes to their potential to decide close, competitive elections.
    • Recent federal elections in Wisconsin have been highly competitive, boosting campaign investment, outreach and media coverage, and thus engagement and turnout. In addition, Wisconsin has historically had strong levels of youth participation.
       
  • All eyes on Maine. Driven by a high-profile U.S. Senate race, which ranks 3rd on CIRCLE’s list this year, Maine appears across all three indices, ranking as the 10th most significant state for youth potential in the presidential election and taking the second spot in U.S. House races, for its 2nd Congressional District. A key factor is turnout: Maine ranks among the top states holding Senate elections in 2020 in terms of youth turnout in recent cycles. The Maine U.S. Senate race may be a unique opportunity for youth to influence the re-election prospects of incumbent Sen. Susan Collins.

The index takes into account the competitiveness of the electoral contests, as well as other indicators such as demographic characteristics, recent differences between youth candidate support and overall support in the state, historical youth turnout patterns and voting laws that encourage participation.

While young people influence elections in many ways, including through activism, online outreach to their peers and work on campaigns, the 2020 YESI highlights the geographic areas where youth (ages 18-29) are poised to have a disproportionately high impact on election outcomes this year.

“We are delighted to offer this powerful, data-driven tool for action. Youth representation really matters, and we strive to provide actionable data and information that can bring more and diverse young people into civic and political life,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of Tisch College’s CIRCLE. “We know that young people can shape our elections, our policies and the future direction of the nation, and we hope the YESI rankings will encourage campaigns, media outlets and advocates across the country to reach young people, engage them on issues they care about, and provide clear and reliable voting information. This outreach is more important than ever, as many young people are likely to be voting by mail in their first federal election.”

Throughout the election cycle, CIRCLE will also be sharing additional analyses about groups of youth within these states, including youth of color and young people living in rural areas, who could have a particularly large influence.

Explore the 2020 index here.

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CIRCLE (www.civicyouth.org) is a nonpartisan, independent, academic research center that studies young people in politics and presents detailed data on young voters in all 50 states. CIRCLE is part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. 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.