How Record-Setting Youth Turnout in the 2020 Election Surpassed 2016 Levels

With more than 25 million votes cast by Gen Z and Millennials, CIRCLE estimated young adult turnout will top 53 percent, besting the previous high of 51%, set in 2008. 

New analysis of young voter turnout indicates a higher percentage of adults under the age of 30 cast ballots in this fall’s presidential election than any other election in history, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.

With more than 25 million votes cast by Gen Z and Millennials, CIRCLE estimated young adult turnout will top 53 percent, besting the previous high of 51%, set in 2008. 

Exit poll data indicates adults under 30 favored Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, with young people of color leaning significantly more left. According to CIRCLE, Black voters under 30 favored Biden by a 76-point margin; Asian voters under 30 favored Biden by a 69-point margin; and Latino voters under 30 favored Biden by a 51-point margin.  White voters favored Biden by just six points.

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And when it came to activism, CIRCLE found young women of color were more likely than any other group to try and convince their friends to vote this year 

“Young people’s activism, participation and leadership in this election have been historic,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life.  “Even at this time of so much uncertainty, when the nation is confronting a pandemic, widespread economic hardship, and systemic racism, young people voted in large numbers across the country. In key states, like Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, they powered the Biden-Harris ticket to victory.”

Young voters indicated racism and climate change were big factors in their desire to cast ballots this year, but no issue motivated Gen Z and Millennials like the COVID-19 pandemic.  A plurality of young adults – including 42% of Biden-supporters – said the coronavirus was the top factor in their voting decisions this year.

According to a recent CIRCLE report on Gen Z, 82% of adults between the age of 18 and 23 said the pandemic made them realize political leaders’ decisions impacted their everyday lives.

While young adults in America don’t vote at the same rates as their older counterparts, their overwhelming support for the Biden-Harris ticket made a big difference in some close states.  In fact, CIRCLE found Biden-Harris won the majority of under-30 adults in at least a dozen “red” states too.

And despite concerns that young voters might not come out to support Biden the way they did for his top primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, exit poll data indicated voters under the age of 30 cast more votes for Biden - at a higher rate – than they did for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Young Americans will have a seat at the table in the Biden-Harris administration, pushing for bold action on climate change, health care, student debt, racial justice, and more,” said Ben Wessel, the executive director of NextGen America, the Tom Steyer-founded advocacy group focused on driving youth turnout.

NextGen reported registering more than 122,000 voters and collecting more than 441,000 voting pledges this year as part of their $59 million effort to mobilize young voters.

“NextGen America’s mission has been simple: increase young voter turnout, win elections, change the country,” Steyer said. “If the strong turnout driven by NextGen this year and in 2018 make anything clear, it’s that this generation of voters will be a force in our politics for decades to come.”