Youth Turnout in the 2014 Midterms

I have the pleasure of working with the brilliant team at Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The preeminent, non-partisan research center on youth engagement, CIRCLE does a lot of great work on youth civic engagement broadly defined.

Today, CIRCLE released an exclusive, preliminary youth turnout estimate for yesterday’s 2014 midterm election. As their post today describes:

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.

You can also see how young people voted in key Senate races below:


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