Youth vote up significantly in 2020; young people of color pivotal

High youth turnout in 2020 key to Biden-Harris victory, especially in battlegrounds and among youth of color
A graphic showing that 52-55% of young people turned out to vote in the 2020 election
Image courtesy of CIRCLE, Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University
November 19, 2020

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Jen McAndrew

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Nov. 19, 2020)—Presidential election turnout among young people ages 18-29 reached 52-55%, significantly higher than the 45-48% turnout of 2016, according to a new youth turnout estimate released today from 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.

Youth voters turned out in large numbers across the country and were instrumental in propelling President-elect Joe Biden and the first female Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, to victory, particularly in battleground states. Fueled by increased youth activism, young voters overcame uncertainty caused by the pandemic, ongoing economic hardship, and changes to election procedures that affected them, and particularly Black young people, significantly.

The final turnout could rise an additional percentage point once all votes are counted. The findings are based on CIRCLE analyses of census population data and the National Election Pool exit poll.

Read the analysis here.

Young people, especially youth of color, were critical to the Biden-Harris victory in key battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, where Black and Latino youth may have single-handedly made Biden competitive.

For example, in Georgia, which Biden narrowly flipped, an estimated 188,000 more young voters backed Biden than chose President Donald Trump. Notably, that vote margin overwhelmingly came from youth of color: 90% of Black youth supported Biden in Georgia while 62% of young white voters supported Trump.

However, young voters did not vote monolithically. Just as millions of young people voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 32 of 39 states, millions of young people supported Trump. 36% of youth voted for Trump, virtually the same in 2020 as 2016.

Youth activism was not limited to casting ballots. Even in the face of unprecedented challenges created by the pandemic and the economy, young people engaged in the election by registering peers to vote, raising issues they care about and calling out injustice, according to CIRCLE research.

CIRCLE’s pre-election polling and previous surveys found that:

  • 83% of youth believe young people have the power to change the country;
  • 79% realized, because of COVID-19, that decisions made by elected leaders impact people’s everyday lives;
  • 50% tried to convince others to vote;
  • 25% helped register voters; and
  • 27% marched or protested.

“As the United States moves forward to 2021 and beyond, it is clear that a culture and expectation of political participation has started to emerge among young people that includes being engaged on issues, registering to vote, voting and encouraging others to do so, and creating and sharing voting and issue-related content for social media,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of Tisch College’s CIRCLE. “This is thanks to the hard work of activists and youth organizers on the ground over many years leading up to 2020—as well as the support of election officials, educators, tech companies, and other stakeholders who took on ensuring young people were excited and ready to vote despite the formidable challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “

CIRCLE will continue to track the progress and impact of young people in American democracy and in U.S. civic life.

You can follow CIRCLE’s research on Twitter at @CivicYouth and @TischCollege, and read this new analysis here.

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About CIRCLE

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 (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.