We know that turnout among all voters has been low. For young voters, the rate is even lower. According to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 2014, turnout among young voters was 30 percentage points lower than voters 30 and older (18-24 years old = 17.1 percent; 30 and older = 47.9 percent).
We need to keep in mind that the relatively low turnout rates of the past few years are not as bad as they may seem.
First, the rules for removing people from the voters file have changed. The changes make it more difficult to remove people from the list who should be removed (e.g., those who have moved out of state or passed away). The result is a voter file that is inflated. For example, in 2012 in Indiana, it appeared that 92 percent of the voting-age population was registered to vote. This would have to be close to complete registration given that 100 percent registration is impossible because the voting-age population includes people who are not eligible to vote. At the same time, complete registration seems unlikely.
Second, the low turnout could be an indicator that people are satisfied with the government they have, or at least the part they can control through elections.
In spite of the positive spin above, the downward trend, and our dismal ranking in the country, suggests that something needs to be done. Given the potential for improvement among young voters, they deserve special attention.
When young people are asked why they do not vote, the responses are similar to those of the population as a whole. The top two reasons in each group were 1) being too busy or having a conflict with work and 2) not being interested / feeling "my vote would not count." The reasons change a bit when you look at college students. Many of them will say they don’t vote because they are out of town.
It has been said that young people may not vote, but they are involved in other ways. It is true that people 16 to 18 years old volunteer as much if not more than those 25 and older, but the percentage of people 19-24 who volunteer is about 10 points lower than the rate for those 25 and older. Interestingly, the percentage of people 19-24 volunteering is similar to voter turnout among young voters.
It is worth noting that young people who volunteered for a political organization were motivated by a cause while young people who volunteered for other types of organizations most likely were motivated by the desire to help other people.
Knowing what motivates a person is invaluable information. Several years ago, I was talking with high school seniors about what they wanted to be when they grew up. I asked them how government would affect that occupation. I also asked how they encountered government that day.
When the students began to see how what the government does affects them already and how it would later, they began to see the importance of participating in government and politics. It is unlikely that one conversation created lifetime voters, but the insight about what motivates young voters is worth noting.
Another interesting finding of the research about young voters is that almost 44 percent of the respondents to one survey in 2012 said they might be, or would be, influenced to vote if asked by a friend. Over 48 percent of the respondents gave the same responses when asked what would happen if their parents asked them to vote.
Addressing low voter turnout among young voters is simple but hard work. If you want to get young people to vote, find out what they want to be and what motivates them. Do they want to be a teacher, mechanic, doctor or plumber? Are they motivated by an issue? Are they motivated to help other people? Once you know these things, explaining why voting is important becomes easier. Just be sure to end your explanation by asking them to vote.