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IMPORTANT BRIEFING MEMO FOR ELECTION NIGHT REPORTING: Young Voter Turnout Rate vs. the Youth Share of Voters

Confusing the SHARE of the electorate and TURNOUT figures has resulted in inaccurate reporting in the past; below is everything you need to know before Election Day:

Key Distinctions for Reporters and Editors: "Share" versus "Turnout"

Voter Turnout Rate: The number of young people that cast ballots as a percent of eligible young voters (U.S. citizens). This is the traditional number for evaluating turnout and engagement. In 2006, the youth voter turnout rate was 25%, an increase of three percentage points over the 2002 election. In 2008, the youth voter turnout rate was 51% and increase of two percentage points from 2004.

Share of Voters: The number of young people that cast ballots as a percent of the total number of ballots cast by voters of all ages. This statistic comes from exit polls, but is only one measure of voter participation. Alone, it does not provide a comprehensive picture of voter participation on Election Day, and thus is not the best indicator of a demographic group’s change in participation between elections. Specifically, it is very possible that turnout of young voters could increase in an election while the "share" of voters they represent remains constant. In 2006, the youth share of the electorate increased only slightly (from 10.2 percent in 2002 to 11.2 percent in 2006), and early exit poll reports showed no increase in their share; but there was a historic increase in the voter turnout rate.


Additional Notes:

1. Young people are not a large part of the population yet. Within the next ten years, the Millennial generation will grow to represent 24 % of the voting age population, but young voters are still overshadowed by the Baby Boomer generation. This could skew their share numbers further (21st Century America Project, March 2010 Summary, The New Democratic Network).

2. In 2004, an early evening Associated Press (AP) story on Election night confused share of voters who were young and youth voter turnout rate, and got the story wrong. While the share of voters who were between ages 18 and 29 was little changed between 2000 and 2004, CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) found a tremendous jump in turnout by combining exit poll data with information about the number of ballots cast and the age breakdown of the population. This was later confirmed by the Census Bureau whose national survey found an 11 point increase in voters under 25 compared to 4 points for the overall population. Because of the smaller but still significant overall turnout increase, the dramatic increase in youth turnout translated into only a small (1-2 percentage point) increase in their share of the overall votes cast. But the increase in raw numbers of young voters that turned out made a significant impact in a set of key races.

3. Resources for Election Night 2010: Although each age group’s share of the electorate may be the first statistic available to the public and the media on Election Day, it is not the appropriate figure upon which to base reporting of young voter turnout. Age-based turnout figures will be available from CIRCLE the day after the election, and precinct-level turnout in precincts with large student populations will be available throughout Election Day from Rock the Vote

Table 1 – U.S. Voter Turnout Statistics,
2006 and 2002, Young People, ages 18-29
Number of Citizens Eligible to Vote in 2010 45 million
Number of Votes Cast 10.8 million
Citizen Voter Turnout Rate 25.5 percent
Share of all Voters
11.2 percent
Number of Votes Cast 8.9 million
Citizen Voter Turnout Rate
22.5 percent
Share of all Voters
10.2 percent
Source: CIRCLE’s Youth Voter Turnout Increases in 2006 Fact Sheet

For more information contact: Maegan Carberry | 202.615.6065 |