Category Archives: 2014 election

nonprofit outreach boosts turnout

Yesterday, I wrote that higher education has limited capacity to improve economic mobility in the US, and our greatest contribution is to help understand and promote the policies that would increase justice. Right on cue, my colleagues at CIRCLE announced a new report they helped Nonprofit Vote to write. It shows that nonprofits are effective when they conduct nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts for the people who come to them seeking services.

Nonprofit Vote calls this strategy “reverse door knocking,” because instead of canvassing highly disadvantaged people, you talk to them about voting when they knock on your organization’s door.

CIRCLE helped to document the positive impact in several different ways. Here is one. The graph shows the turnout (based on actual voting records) of people who were registered at participating nonprofits versus those who were registered in other ways. The categories are different levels of propensity to vote, as calculated by the firm Catalist, which usually advises campaigns on whom to target. If you’re a low-propensity registered voter who was registered through one of the participating nonprofits, you had an 18% chance of actually voting in 2014, ten points higher than if you were a registered voter with the same propensity but you didn’t receive outreach from a nonprofit.


The analysis also shows strong effects on young people.

2014 set records for lowest youth registration and turnout

(Austin, TX) CIRCLE is reporting today that 19.9 percent of 18-to 29-years old cast ballots in the 2014 elections. That was the lowest rate of youth turnout recorded by Census data since the voting age was lowered to 18. The proportion of young people who said that they were registered to vote (46.7%) was also the lowest over the past forty years.

There was, however, a great deal of variation in youth turnout by state (e.g., 31% in Colorado and 15% in Texas). Since the degree to which a state had a competitive senatorial or gubernatorial race was strongly related to its youth turnout, one reason for the record-low may have been the shrinking number of competitive statewide races. Another reason could have been the slew of restrictive voting laws passed by many states between 2010 and 2013.

For more analysis, see the CIRCLE site.

do younger Americans think they lack the knowledge to vote responsibly?


According to a HuffPost/YouGov survey reported by Ariel Edwards-Levy, younger Americans are the most likely to believe that you should only vote if you are well-informed. According to the same poll, younger Americans guess that a majority of their fellow citizens vote in midterm years. They overestimate national turnout far more than older people do. Yet many of these younger respondents do not vote themselves. (We know that actual youth turnout is only about 20-25% in midterm elections). They must see themselves as outliers–in a bad way. They are critical of their own political knowledge and believe that other people know more than they do.

The ones who do vote are quite well informed. According to the exit polls, 77% of 18-29s who voted this November claimed to have followed the midterm election at least “somewhat closely.” But many others may have told themselves that they don’t know enough to vote. As I said to Edwards-Levy, “If anything, they might be putting themselves through too stringent a test.”

Of course, you should inform yourself before you vote. But I don’t think our main problem is uninformed people casting ballots; it’s people staying home because they are actually uninformed or think they are. It is hard to collect political information all on your own just so that you can vote. The traditional solution is to enroll people in multi-purpose organizations that are also conduits for political information. But those organizations are shrinking. As I said in the article, “Twenty or thirty years ago, there were devices for getting information to working-class young people like labor unions, which they belonged to still, and also churches. … Those things have really weakened, so they’re kind of on their own. If you’re a high school dropout and you’re working at Walmart, there’s no way for you to get information except for you to actively seek it.”

top 8 takeaways about young voters and the 2014 election

In lieu of a post of my own, here are CIRCLE’s eight summary points about youth voting in 2014:

Each election year, the headlines about youth voters tend to be the same. The relatively low turnout rate is usually lamented, and sometimes there is some analysis of whether one party (usually the Democrats) benefited from youth support. But it is important to see complexities and derive subtler lessons. Here are our eight takeaways from the 2014 election, each of which suggests only the beginning of a story about young people and politics.

#8. Youth turnout in 2014 election was around 21.5%.

Our estimate of youth turnout in 2014 (based on the Exit Polls and the number of votes counted two days after the election) is 21.5% of youth. In other words, about one in five young adults who were eligible to vote did vote.

#7. Turnout of youth in 2014 was pretty standard, and comparable to previous midterms.

Voter turnout among all age groups is lower in midterm elections when compared to presidential election years. The drop has been consistently more pronounced among young people, so that midterm elections are best compared to previous midterm elections. By that standard, 2014 was highly typical, right near the average for the last 20 years. Note that some analysts are estimating that 2014 was the worst turnout year for the population as whole since 1940.

#6. Midterm exit polls don’t define a generation.

It is unwise to draw generation-wide conclusions based on 21.5% of youth. For example, as indicated in the graph below, while young people with a bachelor’s degree or higher make up 20% of the overall young citizen population, they made up 40% of voters in 2014. It is likely that the non-voters held somewhat different opinions of issues and candidates from the voters.

#5. Neither party has a lock on 18-to-24 year olds.

There has been some discussion of a possible shift to the right among the latest cohort of Millennials. The oldest Millennials were first-time voters during the 2004 election, so their formative experience was the George W. Bush Administration. People turning 18 in 2014 are fully ten years younger and have come of age under Barack Obama. It would stand to reason that their views would be different.

Small differences do emerge by age among the young voters who participated this year, but the differences indicate both more liberal and more conservative attitudes with slightly more of the latter. Comparing youth who voted in 2010 and 2014, there is no clear sign of a shift.

In the past few election cycles, people have been more likely to vote Democratic the younger they are. In 2010, there was a substantial gap in preferences for House candidates between voters under 30 and those 30 or older. In 2014, the gap seemed to fall around age 45. Compared to 2010, voters under 30 were one percentage point less likely to vote Democratic this year, but voters between 30 and 44 were four points more likely to vote Democratic. It could be the case that some of the youthful Democratic voters of 2004 and 2008 are still voting Democratic as they enter their 30s. There was no difference at all in partisan preference between the 18-24s and the 18-29s.

In some respects, the youngest cohort might be seen as somewhat more liberal than older Millennials, and considerably more so than voters 30 and older.

  • On abortion, the 18-24 and the 18-29s held similar views (59% and 60% favoring legal abortion), while to a lesser degree the older age groups were for legal abortion.
  • Asked whether they believed that immigrants should have a path to citizenship, the strongest support came from 18-24s (71%) followed by 18-29s (68%), compared to 57% of all voters.
  • On the general question of whether government should do more to solve problems, there was a steep age gradient. Fifty-three percent of 18-24s but only 35% of 60+ voters agreed. The 18-24s were slightly more favorable than the 18-29s.

Yet members of this younger cohort were less likely to report being enthusiastic or satisfied with the president and his administration than the overall youth voting bloc (42% vs 45%) and were more likely to cast their vote as a sign of opposition to the president (26% vs. 22%). Offered a choice between Hillary Clinton and an unnamed Republican presidential candidate in 2016, young people who voted in 2014 were more likely to answer “It depends” than other age groups. However, compared to 18-29s, 18-24s were also more likely to indicate that they would vote for the Republican candidate in 2016 (36% vs. 31%) and they were slightly more likely indicate a preference for a candidate like Rick Perry than Rand Paul in 2016 than the overall youth voting cohort.

#4. More differences emerge among youth by race and ethnicity.

While 54% of youth (18-29) nationally voted for Democratic House candidates, significant differences consistently emerge by race and ethnicity. In both 2010 and 2014, Black and Latino youth were considerably more likely to choose Democratic House candidates than White youth were. In 2014, White youth gave a majority to the Republicans in House races (54% to 43%).

Slightly more than a majority of young men and women of color who voted considered themselves to be Democrats. After Democrats, young Latinos who voted were next-most likely to identify as Independent/other, and 22% of Latinas who voted identified with the GOP.

#3. Gender also matters.

While White youth looked more conservative than people of color in 2014, White women approved of Congress and President Obama at a higher rate than White men. At the same time, White women were slightly more likely to see the Republican Party favorably than White men were (54% vs.49%), but largely split their vote between parties (50% for Republicans in House races, 47% for Democrats), while young white men overwhelmingly supported House Republican candidates (58% vs. 39%). Young White men were more likely to identify as Independents (40%) followed closely by GOP (36%), while young White women’s top choice was the GOP (41%), and 30% identified themselves as Independents.

Forty-six percent of young voters in 2014 felt that Secretary Clinton would make a good president, compared to 49% who did not. Thirty-two percent said they would vote for her in 2016, 31% for “the Republican candidate”, and 35% said “it depends.” Thirty-seven percent of White men who voted in 2014 said that Secretary Clinton would make a good president, compared to 48% of White women. (Unfortunately, sample sizes were too small to estimate responses to this question for people of color by gender.)

#2. Youth propensity for being independent poses a conundrum for political parties and democracy

While party identification among youth who voted in the 2010 or 2014 election has not changed dramatically, a larger issue for parties is how to draw in youth who are not already affiliated. Even among voters in 2014, 33% identified as Independents or “something else” (as compared to 37% who were Democrats and 31% who were Republicans). Young voters were split in their opinion of the Democratic Party and slightly more were unfavorable to the Republican Party. Gallup polling suggests that close to half of 18-29 year olds identify as Independent. The Pew Research political typology released earlier this year shows a considerable proportion of youth part of the independent, “Young Outsiders” group.

Since party affiliation is related to voter turnout, the lack of identification among youth poses problems for parties as well as future democratic participation.

#1. Missing Mobilization?

We know from previous research that outreach and mobilization of youth does have an impact on turnout. Yet, in 2014, young people were the age group least likely to be contacted, according to Pew Research data from October. The reason that youth turnout was comparable to previous midterm years may be that there was no more outreach this year. In 2010, 11.3 million youth were registered to vote but did not cast a ballot, and many of those were not contacted. To raise the level of youth electoral participation, we can give more attention to drastic gaps among youth.

CIRCLE’s youth turnout estimate: 21.3%

This is what we work through Election Night for (my colleagues more than I): an exclusive, preliminary youth turnout estimate. It shows at least 9.9 million young Americans (ages 18-29), or 21.3%, voted in Tuesday’s midterm election, according to national exit polls, demographic data, and current counts of votes cast.

In a wave election for the GOP, youth still tended to vote Democratic. In the national exit poll data on House races, 18-29 year-olds preferred Democratic candidates by 54% to 43%. In many close Senatorial and gubernatorial races, youth preferred the Democratic candidate, and sometimes they were the only group that did (e.g., in Florida).

In terms of both turnout and vote choice, 2014 actually seems quite typical of a midterm year as far as youth are concerned. Young people made up a similar proportion of voters, and with some exceptions, were more likely to cast ballots for Democrats in tight races.

However, the Senate class of 2008 was not elected in a midterm year. They were elected in 2008, an exceptionally strong year for Democrats, when youth support for Barack Obama set the all-time record in presidential elections. The change from an extraordinary presidential year to a rather typical midterm year hurt the Democratic Senate incumbents. Their advantage among youth voters shrank compared to 2008 in some key states, such as North Carolina (down from 71% in 2008 to 54% in 2014) and Virginia (down from 71% to just 50%). And in some states that had been expected to be competitive this year, the Republican Senatorial candidate won the youth vote along with all older groups–Arkansas and Alaska being examples.

For Republicans, the lesson is they can be competitive among younger voters, although nationally, they still lag behind with that group, and in some states, the Democratic tilt of young voters may pose a problem in years to come.

For Democrats, the message must be to re-engage with young people, who had provided more support in 2008 Senate contests.

National Youth Turnout

According to our preliminary analysis, an estimated 21.3% percent of young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections. That’s very close to our early estimate of 20.4 percent at this time in the last midterm election (2010).

This day-after youth turnout estimate, based on exit polls, the number of ballots counted, and demographic data from the US Census, is subject to change. In past years the National Exit Polls (NEP), conducted by Edison Research, have adjusted their data after an election; for example, its estimate of the proportion of youth in the 2010 electorate was adjusted twice after the election. Additionally, in three states, less than 95% of precincts have reported. As the number of ballots counted increases, so will youth turnout unless the share is adjusted downward.

2010 2014
Preliminary, Day-After Exit Poll-based Estimate 20.4% youth turnout(11% youth share) 21.3% youth turnout (13% youth share)
Week After Exit Poll-based Estimate 20.9% youth turnout(11% youth share) TBD
Final Exit Poll-based Estimate 22.8% youth turnout(12% youth share) TBD
Current Population Supplement (CPS) Estimate* 24% Will be released in Spring 2015


Year Youth Share of ElectorateSource: National Election Pool, National Exit Poll Estimated Youth Turnout Rate Source: 1st day vote tally and Youth Share Based on Exit Polls
2014 13% 21.3%
2010 11% 20.4%
2006 12% 23.5%
2002 11% 20%
1998 13% 20%
1994 13% 22%

Sources: The percentages of voters, ages 18-29, are obtained from national exit polls conducted by Edison Research. The numbers of votes cast are obtained from the media the first day following the election. Estimated voter turnout is obtained by taking the estimated number of votes cast and dividing it by the estimated population of 18 to 29-year-old citizens from the Census Current Population Survey 2014 March Demographic File.

When voting data from the U.S. Census (its Current Population Survey, November 2014 Voting Supplement) become available next year, it will be possible to see with greater certainty whether turnout rose, fell, or stayed the same. It is already clear, however, that turnout was in the typical range for a midterm election. See our note below for more information on these estimates.

*All estimates of youth turnout are subject to bias and error. The Exit Polls use a complex sampling method whose main purpose is not to estimate the ages of voters. If the Exit Polls report an inaccurate proportion of young voters, that will introduce error in our turnout estimates. Another estimate will become available during 2015, from the Census Current Population Survey 2014 November Supplement, which is a survey of a random sample of Americans conducted shortly after the election. The CPS is also subject to bias (for example, people may say they voted when they did not), but it has the advantages of a large sample and consistent method from year to year.