Young Adult Turnout Nearly Doubled in the 2018 Midterm Elections. Can It Be Maintained in 2022?

Posted February 17, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people at voting booths

As the 2022 midterm elec­tions approach­es this fall, much pub­lic dis­cus­sion is focused on expect­ed vot­er turnout, par­tic­u­lar­ly for young adults who demon­strat­ed impres­sive vot­ing efforts in the last midterm elec­tions. Accord­ing to the Cen­sus Bureau’s Cur­rent Pop­u­la­tion Sur­vey, the share of U.S. young adults ages 18 to 24 who vot­ed in the last midterm elec­tions near­ly dou­bled, from 17% in 2014 to 32% in 2018. While the 2018 midterm was wide­ly rec­og­nized for its high turnout among all vot­ing age groups, young adults are cred­it­ed for their extra­or­di­nary civic engage­ment that year. Activists, advo­cates and lead­ers focused on youth engage­ment are work­ing hard to main­tain that momen­tum in 2022.

In a sim­i­lar­ly impres­sive effort in the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, just over half (51%) of young adults ages 18 to 24 vot­ed in 2020, up from 43% in 2016 and well above 36% in 2000 (the ear­li­est year avail­able in the KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter). It is crit­i­cal to main­tain these gains in active young vot­ers, as they are impor­tant civic par­tic­i­pants, and empow­er­ing them to vote ben­e­fits their lives and our democracy.

State Dif­fer­ences in Young Adult Vot­er Turnout

Over the last two decades, most states with avail­able data saw increas­es in young adult vot­er turnout in both the midterm (20022018) and pres­i­den­tial (20002020) elec­tions. How­ev­er, the share of young peo­ple vot­ing var­ied wide­ly from state to state and from elec­tion to elec­tion with­in each state.

Among states with avail­able data in 2020, esti­mates of young adults who vot­ed in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions ranged from near­ly one-third in Okla­homa (31%) and Arkansas (32%) to more than two-thirds in Min­neso­ta (69%), Mary­land (71%) and New Jer­sey (75%). State-lev­el turnout in pri­or pres­i­den­tial elec­tions was marked­ly low­er, with 2016 fig­ures span­ning 22% to 61%, for example.

In the 2018 midterm, just over 1 in 5 young adults vot­ed in Ida­ho (21%) and Ohio (22%), com­pared to near­ly half in Wis­con­sin (48%). In the pre­vi­ous 2014 midterm, youth civic engage­ment was much low­er, with turnout rang­ing from 9% to 31% among states with data.

Why Does Vot­ing and Civic Engage­ment Mat­ter for Young Adults?

When young peo­ple play an active role in elec­tions or oth­er pol­i­cy change efforts, they devel­op skills and knowl­edge, and they become empow­ered to help shape their futures, strength­en their com­mu­ni­ties and con­tribute to democ­ra­cy. In elec­tions, they vote for poli­cies that they believe will help them and their fam­i­lies suc­ceed, whether it is relat­ed to edu­ca­tion, health, men­tal health, safe­ty, finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty or oth­er issues. Civic engage­ment cre­ates valu­able lead­er­ship skills, which can help youth and young adults thrive through­out their lives.

Learn More on Youth and Young Adult Civic Engage­ment & Oth­er Issues

These data on vot­ing trends are con­tin­u­al­ly updat­ed in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter, along with 60-plus oth­er indi­ca­tors about youth and young adults, includ­ing teen par­tic­i­pa­tion in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice or vol­un­teer work. This dataset is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Thrive by 25 focus, which works to ensure that all young peo­ple have what they need to real­ize their full potential.

Explore more of our blog posts and pub­li­ca­tions relat­ed this topic:

In addi­tion, the Cen­ter for Infor­ma­tion and Research on Civic Learn­ing & Engage­ment at Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, a non­par­ti­san research orga­ni­za­tion focused on youth civic engage­ment, is a use­ful resource on this topic.

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