youth turnout up 10 points, youth opt for Democrats to an unprecedented degree

These two graphs from CIRCLE tell the story of youth in the 2018 election.

First, turnout rose dramatically. The blue line shows estimates of youth turnout using the only method that’s available immediately after an election. CIRCLE relies on the exit polls plus the number of ballots cast and demographic data to generate that line. As shown, this estimate has tracked a different method (the Census Bureau’s November surveys, which simply ask people whether they voted) pretty well historically. As CIRCLE acknowledges, their method could lead to errors if the exit polls’ age breakdown is wrong; but it’s the best available method, and it suggests a very strong year for youth.

Second, although young people do not always vote Democratic, they sure did this year. The partisan gap is unprecedented. I happen to think it’s folklore that once people have voted the same way three times, they keep voting that way for life. However, folklore sticks for a reason, and it’s certainly plausible that voting for the same party a few times in a row creates a habit that tends to persist. If that’s true, Republicans are taking a chance on long-term catastrophic damage.

Meanwhile, if you’re a Democrat in a mood to be a little chagrined by yesterday because your high expectations were not quite met (after all, you are a Democrat), just don’t blame youth. These trends are startlingly positive for Democrats. The problem lies further up the age pyramid.

2020 will also be tough for Senate Democrats

In 2016, everyone thinks the Senate “map” is terrible for Democrats. Forty-two Republican incumbents don’t face an election this year, whereas Democrats must defend 24 incumbents, 10 of them in states that Donald Trump won in 2016–sometimes by very large margins. Even a Blue Wave is expected to leave the Republicans in charge of the Senate.

You would think that 2020 would have to be better for Democrats. After all, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in national votes for the president and the House. If, by the luck of the draw, the Democrats face a bad Senate map one year, the next time has to be better–right?

Actually, 2020 looks like another pretty hard year for the Dems. According to Nathaniel Rakich in FiveThirtyEight, 22 Republican Senators will face reelection. That sounds like fertile ground for Democrats, except that only two of those 22, Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, represent states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Based on that information, you might expect Republicans to lose just a seat or two. Meanwhile, 11 Democratic Senators will face reelection, and two of them represent states that Trump won in 2016: Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire (which was close) and Doug Jones of Alabama (which Trump won by 27 points). Based on that information, you might expect the Democrats to lose Jones and maybe one or two more.  If each party loses a seat or two to the other, it will be a wash, preserving the Republican majority.

How can this be? One reason is that a harder year will finally arrive for the Republicans in 2022. Twelve Democrats and 22 Republicans will have to defend seats that year, including several Republicans in swing states: Rubio in Florida, Grassley in Iowa (if he runs again at 89), Burr in North Carolina, Portman in Ohio, Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Johnson in Wisconsin. All the Dems who are up in 2022 are in either blue or purple states.

But the other reason is the extraordinary gap between the Senate and the American population. Even now, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, Democratic senators represent substantially more people:

The Constitution enshrines this imbalance. Anything in the whole document can be changed by amendment, “provided that… no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” This is is our only unamendable rule.

Long-term predictions are foolish, but I think you can imagine a pattern of Democratic presidents and House majorities being systematically stymied by Republican senates and the Supreme Court that the Senate has shaped. Then a significant majority of the public will be consistently blocked by an increasingly radicalized minority that is based in different parts of the country as we address climate crises, AI, and other truly profound challenges. Many people will not trace the failures of the government to specific provisions in our Constitution; they will perceive a government that’s inexplicably unresponsive and unrepresentative. And that, it seems to me, is a recipe for constitutional collapse.

See also: is our constitutional order doomed?two perspectives on our political paralysis; and are we seeing the fatal flaw of a presidential constitution?

youth vote 2018: what to expect and how to interpret the data

In The Washington Post, Amy Gardner reads some tea leaves that might foretell youth turnout in November.

On one hand, the good news: “In Pennsylvania, youth voters have made up nearly 60 percent of all new registrants, Target­Smart reported in September. The share of the electorate that is under age 30 has grown since 2017 in several key states, including Nevada, North Carolina and Florida, according to state voter registration data tracked by the firm L2. In Virginia, requests for student absentee ballots, at about 30,000, are about 50 percent higher than in last year’s gubernatorial election.”

We could add that CIRCLE’s youth polling finds much higher levels of intent to vote than we have seen recently. And these data from Texas look promising:

On the other hand, Gardner notes,

There are plenty of reasons for skepticism about an age group that typically performs dismally at the polls. In 2016, young Americans were expected to turn out heavily against Trump, but the actual share of voters under 30 who cast ballots was 43 percent of eligible voters — about the same as the previous presidential election in 2012 and lower than 2008. (Overall turnout in 2016 was 60 percent.)

Midterm performance is typically far worse: Just 16 percent of young Americans cast ballots in 2014. The highest midterm turnout among voters under 30 in the past three decades was a mere 21 percent in 1994.

And some of the tea leaves seem to foretell just a modest improvement:

In Nevada, young voters’ share of the electorate was 18.6 percent in August, up from 17.5 percent in September 2017, according to L2. In North Carolina, it was 18.3 percent in October, up from 16.7 percent in September 2017. And in Florida, it was 16.6 percent in September, up from 15.6 percent a year earlier.

Meanwhile, in Politico, Marc Caputo, Matt Dixon, and Isabel Dobrin write:

THE YOUNG PEOPLE WILL … STAY HOME? — Remember all that talk of how “the young people will win” and come out in force in Florida, especially after the Parkland massacre? So far, it’s not happening. Voters between the ages of 18-29 are 17 percent of the registered voters in Florida but have only cast 5 percent of the ballots so far. They tend to vote more Democratic. Meanwhile, voters 65 and older are 18.4 percent of the electorate but have cast 51.4 percent of the ballots. And older voters tend to vote more Republican.

Their analysis is based on Daniel Smith’s chart of the early votes so far in Florida, which shows all age groups rising but youth by the smallest amount:

A bunch of different statistics are being cited here: the number of voters or registrants in various age groups, the turnout (the percentage of eligible people in each category who actually voted), and the share of the electorate (what proportion of all voters fit in each category). These articles also cite statistics about registration, early voting, and total voting. It’s easy to get confused.

I expect turnout to rise for the population as a whole, in large part because of the actual and perceived high stakes of the 2018 election. I think youth turnout will also rise but youth will face a challenge keeping pace with the general increase. The difference between them and older voters will probably look better than in Dan Smith’s chart, because early voting seems to appeal especially to older people.

But we could still see various scenarios.

If youth turnout and share of the electorate both rise, it will be a great year for youth voting. Youth turnout could actually fall, but that would really surprise me. If youth turnout rises but no faster than–or not as fast as–the turnout of older people, then youth share will shrink. This will be reported by many news outlets as a decline. That interpretation will not be an outright error. If you want to exercise more influence on the outcome, you must increase your share of the vote. A flat or shrinking share means having no more influence. Also, if turnout rises but youth turnout rises less than average, it will pose questions about the impact of the nonpartisan and partisan efforts specifically to engage youth.

But it will also be true that more youth have voted, which will be worth celebrating if you care about youth engagement. And it will break a pattern, because historically youth turnout has been remarkably flat in midterm elections. Breaking that pattern might be a small positive step even if youth share shrinks slightly.

youth on the brink of a watershed election

My CIRCLE colleagues are on a roll. Since October 9, they have released three reports based on their original national survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24:

In addition, based on an entirely separate survey conducted with Opportunity Youth United (OYU) of 1,200 youth from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, they have released:

Some highlights, for me:

It doesn’t make sense to vote as a complete individual. If 100 million others will also vote–your voice is too small. But it does make sense to vote if you see yourself as part of a group that has a voice. CIRCLE asked whether “you are part of a group or movement that will vote to express its views.”  Just 37.2% of White men said yes, versus 59.5% of young Latinas, 54% of Black men, and 46% of White women. White men were also the one group of youth who plan to vote Republican.

Women and youth of color held views that could be described as more cynical about politics and politicians. But cynicism predicted higher turnout.

We find that young people who reported feeling more cynical are actually more likely to say they are voting than those who are not: 40% vs. 26%. Importantly, being cynical about politics is not preventing young people from recognizing its importance. More than half of youth in our poll (54.8%) agree that the outcome of the 2018 elections will have a direct impact on their everyday lives, only slightly lower than 60.0% in 2016, which is remarkable given that presidential elections are generally seen as much more consequential.

These findings would suggest that young women and people of color are more energized and motivated to vote than young white men are–and that may be true overall. But the barriers to voting fall most heavily on poor youth and youth of color:

Young people, especially those from low-income backgrounds, face logistical barriers to voting, each of which may seem small, but together can make voting difficult. These barriers include having to find out where their polling place is located, not having transportation to the polling place, and having to work around their job schedule—an obstacle compounded by the fact that many have more  than one job.

… For instance, a quarter of our participants had moved within the last 12 months, but of those, only 40% had changed their voter registration address. At the same time, laws and tools designed to facilitate voter participation, such as online registration and text reminders for voting, are not widely used by low-income youth.

… Many of our participants assumed (mostly incorrectly) that a variety of minor criminal offenses and past convictions would bar them from voting. For instance, when asked if someone who has a suspended driver’s license would be able to vote, 24% wrongly believed they could not, and another 42% did not know.

Some young people are apprehensive about going to the polling place because they rarely see people there that they can identify with 74% said they don’t see poll workers that “look like them,” and 87% said they do not see young people working at the polls. Relatively few actually experienced harassment at the polls, but 59% do not believe that election officials make an effort to ensure that people like them can vote.

Overall, it looks as if youth turnout will be a contest between motivated, angry, energized young people and our sometimes inaccessible and alienating electoral systems. I predict some improvement in youth turnout compared to recent midterm elections–with lots of room to improve in future years.

new CIRCLE youth survey: high youth engagement in the 2018 election

From today’s CIRCLE release:

The 2018 midterms have the potential to be historic for youth political participation, with young people receiving campaign outreach, paying attention, and intending to vote at unusually high levels (34% “extremely likely” to vote) that come close to the levels of engagement seen in the 2016 presidential election. Young people who report being actively engaged with the post-Parkland movement for gun violence prevention are even more likely (50%) to say that they’re extremely likely to vote. Our poll reveals strong support overall for Democratic candidates in Congressional elections (45% plan to vote for Democrats, versus 26% for Republicans), but large disparities among different demographic groups of young people, with Black and Latino youth much more likely to support Democratic candidates, young white men actually favoring Republicans, and unaffiliated white youth spreading their support across various parties and ideologies. We also find that, for all the focus on young people’s engagement with political content online, family remains the most important way for youth to learn about the election and the most influential in their engagement and participation.

Much more is here, and this is just the first in a series of analytical posts drawn from a new survey of 2,087 people aged 18 to 24 in the United States, with representative over-samples of Black and Latino youth, and of 18 to 21-year-olds.

the pivotal youth vote in Ayanna Pressley’s election

Early this month, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano in the Democratic primary. CIRCLE’s analysis shows that Pressley performed best in precincts where young adults or people of color are most numerous. Those precincts also saw the biggest turnout increases compared to the most comparable recent election. “For example, Boston’s Ward 21, Precinct 2—home to Boston University’s Student Village—saw 400 percent more votes cast in this primary compared to four years ago, which dwarfed the median increase of 166 percent across all precincts.”

It’s true that precincts with lots of youth or people of color tend to be located in the City of Boston, where Pressley has been a councilor. So it could be that she performed best within her own jurisdiction. (She is a respected veteran elected official, even though she is sometimes portrayed simply as an insurgent.) However, she also won precincts outside of Boston that have favorable demographics.

I find it interesting that age and race/ethnicity separately predicted support for her. Or, to put it another way, she did well in student precincts that are predominantly white and upper-income as well as in low-income neighborhoods.

the Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review

[Press Release] – A 20-person panel of voters convened by the Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) pilot project has released its Citizens’ Statement on Question 1, the ballot question on nurse staffing limits.

The Citizens’ Statement is intended to assist voters by providing them with the results of their fellow citizens’ four-day deliberation on the ballot question. It sets out the panel’s key findings as well as the strongest and most reliable reasons to support or oppose Question 1.The Citizens’ Statement is available online.

The Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review deliberations were held from September 12-15 at the Watertown Free Public Library. The campaigns for and against Question 1 both appeared before the citizen panel three times to present their arguments and answer questions.

The citizen panelists also heard from seven neutral experts in fields relevant to nursing, patient safety, and healthcare. Trained facilitators guided the deliberations that resulted in the Citizens’ Statement.

The Massachusetts CIR pilot project was organized by State Representative Jonathan Hecht in partnership with Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Healthy Democracy, the organization that pioneered CIR in Oregon and others states. Experience in Oregon, where CIR has been part of the official election process since 2011, has shown it to be a highly effective and well-received way to inform voters about complicated ballot measures.

This is the second time Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review has been used in Massachusetts.

In 2016, 77% of voters who saw the Citizens’ Statement on marijuana legalization (Question 4) said it was helpful in making their decision. On major factual issues, voters who read the Citizens’ Statement were better informed and more confident in their knowledge than those who only read the official voter guide. John Gastil, Professor of Communications at Penn State and one of the nation’s leading CIR researchers, will conduct surveys to determine how helpful the 2018 Citizens’ Statement proves for Massachusetts voters.

The 20-member citizen panel was selected from respondents to a mailer sent to 15,000 randomly-selected Massachusetts voters.

the Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review

[Press Release] – A 20-person panel of voters convened by the Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) pilot project has released its Citizens’ Statement on Question 1, the ballot question on nurse staffing limits.

The Citizens’ Statement is intended to assist voters by providing them with the results of their fellow citizens’ four-day deliberation on the ballot question. It sets out the panel’s key findings as well as the strongest and most reliable reasons to support or oppose Question 1.The Citizens’ Statement is available online.

The Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review deliberations were held from September 12-15 at the Watertown Free Public Library. The campaigns for and against Question 1 both appeared before the citizen panel three times to present their arguments and answer questions.

The citizen panelists also heard from seven neutral experts in fields relevant to nursing, patient safety, and healthcare. Trained facilitators guided the deliberations that resulted in the Citizens’ Statement.

The Massachusetts CIR pilot project was organized by State Representative Jonathan Hecht in partnership with Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Healthy Democracy, the organization that pioneered CIR in Oregon and others states. Experience in Oregon, where CIR has been part of the official election process since 2011, has shown it to be a highly effective and well-received way to inform voters about complicated ballot measures.

This is the second time Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review has been used in Massachusetts.

In 2016, 77% of voters who saw the Citizens’ Statement on marijuana legalization (Question 4) said it was helpful in making their decision. On major factual issues, voters who read the Citizens’ Statement were better informed and more confident in their knowledge than those who only read the official voter guide. John Gastil, Professor of Communications at Penn State and one of the nation’s leading CIR researchers, will conduct surveys to determine how helpful the 2018 Citizens’ Statement proves for Massachusetts voters.

The 20-member citizen panel was selected from respondents to a mailer sent to 15,000 randomly-selected Massachusetts voters.

Election Imperatives: Ten Recommendations to Increase College Student Voting and Improve Political Learning and Engagement in Democracy

I’m on vacation and not blogging, but I’m proud to help circulate a major new report from our Institute for Democracy & Higher Education entitled Election Imperatives. It recommends 10 strategies that colleges and universities should implement to improve political participation on college campuses in 2018 and beyond. The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an exclusive story on it this morning. More than a dozen national organizations are endorsing and disseminating the report, and you can see that list here. There is also a nice video gif of the report with photos.

Here are the 10 headings, but you have to consult the report to understand them fully:

  1. Reflect on past elections and reimagine 2018
  2. Remove barriers to student voting
  3. Develop informed voters
  4. Establish a permanent and inclusive coalition to improve the climate for learning and participation
  5. Increase and improve classroom issue discussions across disciplines
  6. Support student activism and leadership
  7. Empower students to create a buzz around the election
  8. Invest in the right kind of training
  9. Talk politics across campus
  10. Involve faculty across disciplines in elections

Florida injunction allows early in-person voting on campuses

From the Tampa Bay Times:

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s elections officials showed “a stark pattern of discrimination” in blocking early voting at state college and university campuses, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

[…]

Walker ruled that a 2014 state opinion that banned early voting on campus violates three amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“Simply put, (the state) opinion reveals a stark pattern of discrimination,” Judge Walker wrote. “It is unexplainable on grounds other than age because it bears so heavily on younger voters than on all other voters. (The state’s) stated interests for the opinion (following state law, avoiding parking issues, and minimizing on-campus disruption) reek of pretext.”

Judge Walker’s injunction makes a good read, as legal documents go. For instance, “Defendant measures the walking and biking distance between the nearest early voting site and UF from the very edge of campus. … The University of Florida is like Hogwarts, which proscribes on-campus apparating—or instantaneous teleportation. Students do not and cannot apparate within the campus.  Rather, UF students would begin their treks to the early voting site in downtown Gainesville from various points across campus. For example, it is a 2.5-mile distance from the center of campus at a dormitory like Hume Hall to the early voting site.”

We submitted an expert report in support of the plaintiffs this case.