Youth Voting in the 2004 Election: The Staff of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (1)

Social Education, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Youth Voting in the 2004 Election: The Staff of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (1)


IN EARLY NOVEMBER OF 2004, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) released statistics on voting by young Americans revealing that more than half of the eligible under-30 population had voted. Turnout had reached a level not seen for more than a decade. CIRCLE later released additional information on young people's voting and their attitudes and values as revealed by the exit polls.

Like the Under-30s, Voters Under the Age of 25 Increased Their Turnout Based on National Election Pool (NEP) exit polls and vote tallies from the Associated Press, CIRCLE estimates that the turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was approximately 42 to 47 percent, up from 36 percent in 2000. (2) Young people between the ages of 25 and 29 voted at a higher rate, 59 percent in 2004.

Exit polls also indicate that 18- to 24-year-olds' share of the total vote stayed about the same as in 2000, at around nine percent. Their share of the voting eligible population also stayed the same. However, the turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds went up from 2000 by at least six percentage points. Overall turnout increased dramatically this year, and the increase in the turnout of 18-to 24-year-olds is at least as high as that seen in older age groups.

Currently, exit polls are the only source of data for estimating youth voter turnout, but they may not be the best data source for comparing the turnout of different age groups over time. Exit polls usually do not include anyone who voted early or absentee. More information about youth voter turnout will be available in 2005 when the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey November Supplement is released.

Young and Older Voters Concerned about Same Issues, but Different Values

Young voters and older voters were generally concerned about the same issues. For example, 22 percent of under-30 voters selected "moral values" as the single most important issue, exactly the same rate as in the electorate overall.

Younger voters were somewhat more concerned about education and taxes and less concerned about terrorism, compared to older voters. Although young voters were as concerned about jobs and the economy as other voters, they were the most likely to have experienced a job loss in their household within the last four years. Forty percent of 18- to 24-year-olds had experienced a job loss in their house hold and 43 percent of 25-to 29-year-olds had experienced a job loss, seven and 10 percentage points higher than the average.

Despite a pattern of broadly similar issues, there were some clear differences between young Americans and their older counterparts on specific issues such as gay marriage and the role of government. For example, 41 percent of 18 to 29 voters said that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, compared to 25 percent of all voters and just 16 percent of those 60 and older. Fifty-six percent of under-30s and 60 percent of under-25s believe that "government should do more to solve problems," compared to 46 percent of all voters.

Big Differences Between Youngest Generation and Generation-X

Under-30 voters often diverged strikingly from voters who are currently in their 30s, according to the exit polls. On a few issues, such as abortion and Iraq, the under-30s hold similar views to those between the ages of 30 and 39. However, compared to this older group, the under-30s were eight percentage points more likely to vote for John Kerry and seven points more likely to vote for the Democratic House candidate. In addition, compared to voters in their thirties:

* By six percentage points, under 30 voters were more likely to believe that John Kerry says what he believes,

* By 12 points, under 30 voters were more likely to identify as liberal (and seven points less likely to call themselves conservative),

* By six points, they were less likely to approve of the Bush administration,

* By five points, they were more likely to believe that the Bush administration's tax cuts have been bad for the economy,

* By five points, they were more likely to believe that the "government should do more to solve problems,"

* By 16 percentage points, they were more likely to favor same-sex marriage,

* By eight percentage points, they were less likely to identify as Protestant but five points more likely to categorize themselves as "other Christian,"

* By seven points, they were less likely to live in a household with a gun,

And under 30 voters were more likely to live in large cities and less likely to live in suburbs (by six points and eight points, respectively). …

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