Authors: Michael P. McDonald, Anna Baringer
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michael McDonald
College: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
It is well-known that younger people vote at lower rates than their elders. Nevertheless, recent news coverage suggests that Generation Z, Millennials and Generation X accounted for a narrow majority of voters in the 2018 General Election. This claim, however, and much of what scholars know about the relationship between age and turnout, is drawn from respondents’ self-reported answers to survey questions, which can be affected by survey methodology issues. Through innovative methods, we construct a new measure of citizen turnout rates by age using administrative records. The numerator is drawn from voter registration files and the denominator from Census Bureau data. We analyze 2018 citizen turnout rates by age for twenty states. We find that while the youngest generations cast less than half of all ballots in the 2018 election, the Baby Boomers and Silent generations still accounted for a majority share of votes.
Great job Anna!
Thank you, Dr. McDonald!
Why do you think the CPS bias most heavily affects younger voter estimates as opposed to just affecting all other voter groups?
Older people have higher turnout rates, so there is less room for an upward bias from saying they voted when they really did not.
Also, fantastic job Anna!
Excellent research and presentation, Anna. Looking forward to this being published!
Thanks so much, Dr. Smith!
What states were you collecting data from?
We collected voter files from 20 states, listed here: FL, NC, OK, NY, ID, WA, PA, MT, IA, OR, NV, OH, CT, GA, UT, MO, TX, CO, VT, and SD
Thanks for your question!
This is super cool! Good job Anna!
Thanks so much, Sara!
This is a great presentation, Anna, good job! So why did you decide to focus on this particular topic?
Good question, Annelise! As I am sure you can imagine, there are a lot of different applications for our data when it comes to studying questions of turnout by age. We decided to present our methods using this topic in particular as we thought it would make for a succinct poster presentation and hopefully be a topic people were interested in learning about.
We examine how state laws and campaign conditions affect the structure of turnout by age, too!
Excellent research. Do you think younger voters will vote at higher rates than older voters in 2020?
Great question! Although I cannot exactly predict what will happen in 2020 (especially with coronavirus now having an impact), it is only a matter of time before younger generations outvote their elders, as of course, it is true that younger people are getting older and will likely vote at higher rates with age.
Very interesting, Anna! If you were to make a prediction, would you say that younger voters will continue to make up a small percentage of the people that vote in upcoming elections, or do you think that the number of young voters will increase over time?
Thanks for your question, Catherine! As younger people age, the particular generations that we examined here (Gen Z, Millenials, and Gen X) will, of course, make up a larger share of votes cast in any election. Whether or not the youngest voters in every election will have higher turnout in the future is a more difficult question, however. Although, I definitely hope so!
With the same methods we explained here we also looked at the effect that different electoral laws have on lessening the turnout gap between younger and older voters. Essentially, we found persistent lower youth turnout in even the best of circumstances.
Great work, as always!
Thanks so much, Will! Looking forward to checking out your project at 3pm.
Very exciting work, Anna! Looking forward to seeing this research published and developed further in the future. Awesome job!
Thanks a bunch, Jenna! Excited to check out your work as well – although I’m sure it’s great.
I’m really impressed with this research. Why do you think it is that the older generation outvotes the younger generation?
Thanks, Lauren! Scholars have lots of theories as to why young people have chronically lower turnout. Some believe that young people have not yet experienced life events that are correlated with turnout (such as marriage) or that young people are simply not interested in candidates who tend to be older. Others believe it is electoral laws or geographic mobility that make it more difficult for young people to vote. We are hoping that our new method of calculating citizen turnout can help researchers better isolate the conditions that encourage young people to vote.
Very interesting! Do you think this will continue to always be a trend or will voter turnout change in the future? Has mass media had any effect on generational voter turnout from the past decade or has it remained relatively the same?
Thank you, Carolyn! Of course, I am hoping that this will change, although I am not sure how. Using the same methods we explained in this poster, we also examined the effect that different electoral laws have on lessening the turnout gap between younger and older voters. Essentially, we found persistent lower youth turnout in even the best of circumstances, which is unfortunate.
According to surveys, youth turnout has actually decreased in recent decades. You can take a look at the CPS estimates of turnout by age from 1964–2012 here: https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p20-573.pdf
This is very interesting! Do you think that the number of younger voters will increase in the upcoming general election? If so, do you think this trend will continue in the future?
Thanks, Jessica! Young people turning out less than their elders is surprisingly consistent over time. I am not sure what conditions would have to hold for young people to increase turnout, but I am hoping that our new methodology can help researchers answer that. For example, we also examined the effect that different electoral laws have on lessening the turnout gap between younger and older voters. Unfortunately, we found persistent lower youth turnout in even the best of circumstances. Hopefully, as we continue to collect data in the coming elections, we will be able to better isolate the electoral conditions and policies which boost youth turnout.
I’m with the other comments and applaud the work you and Dr. McDonald have done. I hope the publishing journey is smooth once this goes out!
Thanks a bunch, Emily! Loved being able to view your work as well.
Great poster and pitch, Anna. Do you think social desirability bias is part of the over report bias for younger generations?
Hi Madeline! Thanks for your question. I think social desirability bias definitely plays a role in overreporting for all ages. As Dr. McDonald commented above, we believe it is most prominent among young voters since they have lower turnout rates and therefore have more room for an upward bias from saying they voted when they really did not.