Who Are Young Voters?
Rock The Vote
Millennials are defining themselves as a politically engaged, tech-savvy, and diverse generation.
Young adults are taking action on key issues in communities and on campuses all across the country. From the 5,000-person Power Shift summit on climate change in Maryland in 2007 to the 2,000-person march for voting rights in Prairie View, Texas in 2008, young adults aren’t sitting on the sidelines of the most important fights – they’re leading them.
Young volunteers are fueling political campaigns, too. In 2006, campaign strategists for several winners – Senator Jon tester, congressman Joe Courtney, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few – credited young voters and volunteers for helping fuel their victories. In the 2008 primaries, the story is magnified ten-fold. Young adults are driving the successes of many primary campaigns in 2008.
Today’s 18 year olds began kindergarten in 1995, when encyclopedias were going the way of the eight-track. cell phones, text messages, email, instant messages, and online social networks are how young adults communicate today.
According to the Pew Research center:
• 88 percent of 18-29 year olds are online (compared to 32 percent of those 65 and older);
• 70 percent of 18-30 year olds use the Internet daily and two-thirds check their email daily;
• About one-quarter of 18-30 year olds use communications such as Facebook or instant messaging. (7)
And while the digital divide persists, it is lessening with this generation – 67 percent of 18-29 year old Latinos and 77 percent of African Americans are online.
Debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck is a fact of life for today’s young adults. Over the past decade, college costs, health insurance, and housing costs have soared. About two-thirds of college students graduate with debt, with the average graduate owing $20,000, (8) and many single adults have a hard time making ends meet on one income.
A February Rock the Vote poll found that in 2008 the economy and jobs have surpassed the war in Iraq as 18-29 year olds’ top issue of concern, followed closely by health care and education costs. Clearly, today’s young adults are having a hard time making ends meet in a difficult economy.
Sixty-one percent of Millennial adults are white, 17 percent are hispanic, 15 percent are black, and 4 percent are Asian. In comparison, 84 percent of Americans over 65 years of age are white. Millennial voters are also a diverse group, and becoming increasingly so: (9)
Race & Ethnicity of Young Voters (18-29) in Presidential Elections
Chart Title: Race & Ethnicity of Young Voters (18-29) in Midterm Elections
As noted, young voters are a very diverse group and certainly not monolithic in their political attitudes. Below we provide a snapshot of the characteristics of young voters overall as well as several subgroups.
Size: There are 44 million 18-29 year old citizens in the U.S., (10) one-fifth of the electorate. today’s 18-29 year olds are part of the Millennial Generation, the biggest generation since the Baby Boomers.
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, young voters’ top issues are jobs and the economy, followed by Iraq, education and the cost of college, and health care. (11)
Voting: In 2004, young voter turnout jumped by nine percentage points – or 4.3 million votes – over 2000 levels. Again in 2006, turnout was up – this time by 1.9 million over 2002 levels. (12) And in the 2008 primaries, 18-29 year olds’ turnout doubled and tripled in nearly ever contest. (13)
Party ID: 47% Democrat, 28% Republican, and 16% Independent. (14)
Size: there are 6.3 million African-American citizens between the ages of 18 and 29. (U.S. census)
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, this group’s top issues are jobs and the economy, Iraq, education and the cost of college, and health care and prescription drugs.
Voting: In 2004, under-25 African-Americans increased their turnout by 11 points and voted at rates as high as the overall age group for the first time in decades. turnout went up again in 2006. (RTV-CIRCLE)
Party ID: 73% Democrat, 6% Republican, and 15% Independent. (RTV poll)
Size: There are 5.6 million Latino citizens between 18 and 29 in the U.S. Young Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing racial or ethnic subset of young adults; 50,000 turn 18 each month. (U.S. census)
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, young Latinos’ top issues are immigration, jobs and the economy, the environment and global warming, and Iraq.
Voting: In 2004, turnout among 18-29 year old Latinos jumped six percentage points. In other words, 1.1 million more Latinos under 30 voted than had in 2000. (RTV-CIRCLE)
Party ID: 51% Democrat, 21% Republican, and 19% as Independent. (RTV poll)
Size: there are 22 million women between the ages of 18 and 29 eligible to vote in the U.S. (U.S. census)
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, this group’s top issues are jobs and the economy, followed by health care, education and the cost of college, and Iraq.
Voting: Young women vote at higher rates than their male peers. In fact, in 2004 young women led the overall young voter turnout increase, jumping 10 percentage points over 2000 levels. (RTV-Circle)
Party ID: 55% Democrat, 26% Republican, and 19% Independent. When marital status is considered, the gap in identification decreases. Forty-eight percent of young married women identify as Democrats, 40% as Republicans, and 5% as Independents. (RTV poll)
Size: There are 22 million men between the ages of 18 and 29 eligible to vote in the U.S. (U.S. census)
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, young men’s top issues are jobs and the economy, followed by Iraq, health care, gas prices, and immigration.
Voting: Young men’s voter turnout lags behind young women’s, but men have also increased their turnout in the past two elections. In 2004, participation among men under 30 jumped by almost 8 points over 2000 levels; in 2006, their turnout grew by 3 points over 2002 levels. (RTV-CIRCLE)
Party ID: 38% Democrat, 30% Republican, and 22% Independent. (RTV poll)
Size: Approximately 47% of 18-29 year olds identify as Democrats, an estimated 20 million young adults.
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, young Democrats’ top issues are jobs and the economy, Iraq, education and the cost of college, health care, and the environment and global warming.
Voting: Up until the 2004 election, 18-29 year olds were evenly divided between the two political parties in terms of vote choice. However, young adults began to vote increasingly Democratic in 2004.
• In 2004, under-30 voters were the only age group John Kerry won: 54% of 18-29 year olds voted for Kerry and 45% for George W. Bush. (15)
• In 2006, 58% of 18-29 year olds chose Democratic congressional candidates. (RTV-CIRCLE)
• In 2008, about two and a half times as many 18-29 year olds have voted in Democratic primaries compared to Republican primaries. (16)
Size: Approximately 28% of 18-29 year olds identify as Republicans, an estimated 12 million young adults.
Issues: According to Rock the Vote polling, young Republicans’ top issues are jobs and the economy, immigration, gas prices, health care, terrorism and homeland security, and the budget deficit.
Voting: While the GOP is facing decreasing support from young voters, the energy and loyalty of young Republicans bodes well for their commitment to the party in 2008 and beyond.
• In 2008, young Republican turnout increased in almost every primary, as did young adults’ share of the overall Republican vote. (17)
• Young Republicans are paying close attention to the 2008 election, and the vast majority reports a high level of favorability toward and intent to vote for the party’s nominee, John Mccain. (RTV poll)
(4) According to the U.S. census Bureau, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) number 78.2 million.
(5) Rock the Vote tabulations of the U.S. census Bureau current Population Survey, March 2007.
(7) Rock the Vote poll with Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group, May 2006.
(8) the College Board, “2006 trends in higher Education Series: Student Debt.”
(9) charts are from “Young Voter Registration and turnout trends,” by Rock the Vote and Circle, 2008.
(10) Rock the Vote tabulations of the U.S. census Bureau current Population Survey, March 2007.
(11) Rock the Vote 2008 February 2008 poll of 18-29 year olds.
(12) “Young Voter Registration and turnout trends.” CIRCLE and Rock the Vote. February 2008.
(13) Rock the Vote and CIRCLE tabulations based on 2000, 2004, and 2008 cNN exit polls and reported vote totals.
(14) Rock the Vote 2008 February 2008 poll of 18-29 year olds.
(15) National Election Pool Exit Poll, 2004.
(16) As of March 5, 2008. From Rock the Vote’s “Young Voter turnout 2008 - Primaries and caucuses” factsheet.