New poll: After historic turnout, young people want change

Post-election survey shows that young people remain engaged and want action on key issues
Chart shows priorities for young voters for incoming Biden-Harris administration
Image via CIRCLE, Tisch College
January 12, 2021

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Jen McAndrew

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (January 12, 2021)—Young people made their mark on the 2020 presidential election with a likely historic level of voter turnout and decisive impact in key states. After the election, young people remain engaged in civic and political life and are poised to continue pushing for change on a wide range of issues, according to findings from an exclusive post-election survey from Tisch College’s CIRCLE.

The survey was designed and analyzed 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, and was conducted by Gallup, Inc., from November 3-December 2, 2020. Unless otherwise noted, survey results refer to people ages 18 to 29.

Key findings include:

  • Young people believe they can—and must—make change. Overwhelming majorities of young people say they believe in their power to change the country (84%), and they recognize that work to improve communities goes beyond elections and voting (84%). Three in four youth believe that “people like them” should participate in the political decisions that shape the country (76%) and that they have the responsibility to make things better for society (80%).
  • Numerous and diverse priorities for Biden administration. Across all young people, the top issues identified for the incoming administration included: making a COVID-19 vaccine widely available, creating jobs, unifying Americans from different backgrounds, and combating violence against people of color.
  • Top issues varied among youth based on their preferred candidate. Eighty percent of young Biden voters said that making a vaccine for COVID-19 widely available was a top priority, compared to 59% of Trump-supporting youth. Almost three quarters of Biden-voting youth (71%) said raising taxes for very wealthy individuals and corporations should be prioritized, compared to just 30% of Trump-voting youth.
  • Youth motivated by demand for racial justice. For many young people, their civic and political action has been motivated by concerns about racial issues. Seventy percent say they feel the urgency to do something to fight racism; 56% say they have talked to friends, family, or coworkers about how racism affects our society; and 45% report taking concrete action for racial justice.
  • Biden voters more engaged. Though young supporters of both major presidential candidates reported strong levels of participation (as of early December), the CIRCLE survey finds that engagement in the election was higher among young Biden voters. Beyond this concerning disparity, engagement among youth overall could be even higher if opportunities were more visible, accessible, and meaningful. There are many young people who are interested in participating in civic life but have not found the right opportunity.
  • Engagement was very high throughout 2020 election cycle. CIRCLE’s pre-election polling (fielded in May-June 2020) showed high levels of youth involvement, and this post-election analysis suggests that engagement likely intensified throughout the year. Two-thirds of young people have talked to friends about political issues or elections, 45% have tried to convince other youth to vote and 23% have worked to register voters.

Image via CIRCLE at Tisch College

“Young people raised their voices, organized and voted in potentially historic numbers in 2020, and their leadership continues,” said Alan Solomont, dean of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. “Now that the elections are behind us, young people are poised to seize their power to make change on issues they care about and to strengthen our democracy. They know that their continued engagement is needed now more than ever.”

“The 2020 election cycle further cemented the younger generation’s capacity to organize and effect change, often based on their shared commitment to racial and environmental justice,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of Tisch College’s CIRCLE. “It’s incumbent on leaders to listen to, learn from and partner with young people. Young people have high expectations for the incoming Biden administration and are poised to make a difference.”

Read the full analysis here.

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CIRCLE (circle.tufts.edu) 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 (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.