California Youth Are Eager to Register, but Not to Vote

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

California Democrats, salivating at the thought of a burgeoning population of youthful, relatively liberal voters turning up at the polls, got a wakeup call from a study by the University of California, Davis.

Young people (18-24) registered in record numbers last year, thanks in large part to online registration, but reverted to slacker form when it came to actually voting. They are a growing part of the electorate (up 13.9% from 2008), but more than two-thirds of eligible young voters failed to vote in November.

Only 50.8% of registered youths and just 31.7% of those eligible to vote actually cast ballots. That compares unfavorably to the 60-plus percent of eligible voters 25 and older who participated. Overall, 72.4% of registered voters in California and 55.5% of eligible voters voted, numbers that were dragged down by young people.  

As an earlier study by UC Davis noted, “Despite significant increases in youth registration, youth still remain underrepresented compared to their share of the state’s population.”

Youth voting varied dramatically by geography. Marin County reported the highest youth vote, 58% of those eligible, while Imperial County was the worst at 17.6%. To a large extent, that is a product of wealth.

“Regions with the greatest disparity in eligible youth turnout also have some of the poorest social and economic outcomes for their youth,” the report said. “For instance, the Los Angeles, Northstate and the San Joaquin Valley regions all have the highest poverty levels (14.8%, 18.5% and 20.8%, respectively), as well as some of the lowest high school graduation rates in California.”

In general, registered California Republicans tend to show up to vote more often than registered Democrats—except for younger people. Overall, the numbers are Republicans (74.9%), Democrats (72.2%) and No Preferred Party (61.2%). But Dems hold a slight edge over Republicans among the 18-24 crowd, 55.9% to 51.9%, which slips slightly among those 25-34 and 35-44. Age groups older than that show higher percentages for the GOP.

Of course, the higher overall percentages don’t win elections for Republicans because there are a lot fewer of them in the state. Voter registration for the November election was 43.5% Democratic and 29.6% Republican.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Low Voter Turn-Out Among California Youth (Futurity)

California’s 2012 Youth Voter Turnout: Disparate Growth and Remaining Challenges (University of California, Davis) (pdf)

California’s 2012 Electorate: The Impact of Youth and Online Voter Registration (University of California, Davis) (pdf)

Did Young People Deliver Prop. 30 for Jerry Brown? (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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