2020 Election Center
Young people shape every electoral cycle by engaging in activism, working on campaigns, leading conversations about issues, reaching out to peers and relatives, supporting candidates, and casting ballots that can sometimes decide an election and shift the balance of power in the United States. Voting is not the be-all and end-all of youth civic engagement; far from it. But elections are invaluable nationwide opportunities for young people to participate in democracy.
As part of our efforts to broaden youth voting and ensure that more and more diverse young people engage in the electoral process, CIRCLE conducts substantial research on how youth participate in elections. In 2020, we're tracking youth voter registration rates, their views on the candidates, and their involvement in the political process.
We also endeavor to take a step back, look beyond the 'horse race', and examine the myriad social, institutional, and political contexts that can affect whether and how youth participate: emerging activist movements, social media trends, new election laws, and the competitiveness of races across the country. And, as always, we will highlight disparities in youth electoral engagement that illustrate the political marginalization of some youth and communities, with an eye toward closing gaps and redressing inequality.
Explore all of our data, analysis, and commentary on the 2020 election:
Latest 2020 Research
Polling and Other Analyses
On May-June 2020, we fielded a comprehensive poll of young people (ages 18-29) that asked about their interest and engagement in the election, their candidate preference, their participation in activism and social movements, whether they're being contacted by campaigns, and whether they have the information they need to vote in an election that may make heavy use of online voter registration and mail-in voting.
Major findings include:
- Seizing their Power: 83% say they believe young people have the power to change the country, 60% feel like they’re part of a movement that will vote to express its views, and 79% of young people say the COVID-19 pandemic has helped them realize that politics impact their everyday lives.
- Strong Preference for Biden Over Trump: 58% of youth say they support Joe Biden, compared to just 24% for President Trump—a staggering 34-point margin. But 18% of youth say they would like to vote for another candidate. Asian youth (78%) and Black youth (73%) are the most likely to support Biden. Meanwhile, almost three quarters of youth who support Trump (72%) are White.
- Campaign Contact Still a Concern: Almost half of youth (47%) say they have been contacted by a political campaign this year. However, that’s still an improvement from 2016, when only 32% of youth (ages 18-29) had heard from a campaign.
- Youth in the Streets: 27% of young people (ages 18-24) say they have attended a march or demonstration, a remarkable increase from when we asked the question for the same age group before the 2016 and 2018 elections (5% and 16%, respectively).
- Information and Guidance on OVR and VBM Needed: We asked youth if they could register to vote online in their state. A third (32%) said they did not know. Among those who answered yes or no, 25% were incorrect. In addition, only 24% of youth report having voted by mail before.
- Top Issues Differ, Racism High Priority for Youth of Color: The environment, racism, and affordable healthcare are the top-3 issues most commonly named by youth as the most important in driving their vote this November. Getting back to normal after the pandemic and police mistreatment also ranked highly.
Throughout the 2020 presidential primaries, CIRCLE conducted state-by-state analyses of youth voting in the Democratic Party’s nominating contest. Along with tracking youth turnout rates in each state's primary or caucus, we also analyzed young voters’ preferences for different candidates to evaluate the often pivotal impact young people are having on the outcome of the race.
Our analyses allowed us to estimate how many votes young people cast for each Democratic presidential candidate. We used the same methodology as in 2016, when we found that Senator Bernie Sanders received more youth votes in the primaries than then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined. The postponement of primaries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Senator Sanders suspending his campaign, effectively ended the Democratic primary. We will continue analyzing data we gathered from the more than 25 states who voted in order to draw key insights as we move toward the general election.
State by State Analyses
- March 17 Primaries (AZ, FL, IL): Young People Still Not Coalescing Behind Joe Biden
- March 10 Primaries: Joe Biden Wins Young Voters for the First Time in 2020
- Super Tuesday: The Youth Vote on Super Tuesday
- South Carolina: Youth Make Up 1 in 9 South Carolina Voters
- Nevada: Two-Thirds of Youth Support Sanders in Nevada Caucus
- New Hampshire: Half of Young Voters Back Sanders, Propel Him to New Hampshire Victory
- Iowa: Young People Make Up Historic Share of Iowa Caucusgoers, Boost Bernie Sanders
For an exclusive CIRCLE poll conducted in January, we surveyed Texans ages 18-39. We found that 37% say they support Bernie Sanders, followed by 25% for Joe Biden and 18% for Elizabeth Warren. In addition, 39% say they are “extremely likely” to participate in the March 3rd presidential primaries, including 43% of Whites and 38% of Latinos. More than half of those who say they are "very" or "extremely" likely to vote say they plan to do so in the Democratic primary. The poll also highlighted challenges and disparities in electoral outreach, especially to younger Latinos in Texas: 66% of Millennial and Gen Z Texans in our poll, including 75% of Latinos, have not heard from a campaign, suggestigng there’s still a lot of work to do to get younger Texans prepared and excited to vote.
Young people are poised to influence the direction of the 2020 election, starting with the upcoming, first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. In addition to the work young people do on political campaigns and to register voters, a new, exclusive CIRCLE-Tisch College/Suffolk University poll of youth in Iowa (ages 18-29, regardless of party or voter registration) finds that more than a third (35%) say they are “extremely likely” to caucus on February 3rd and, on the Democratic side, they are supporting Senator Bernie Sanders by a substantial margin. According to our poll, 39% of young Iowans who are registered or identify as Democrats intend to caucus for Sanders, followed by 19% for Senator Elizabeth Warren, 14% for Pete Buttigieg, 9% for Andrew Yang, and 7% for former Vice President Joe Biden.
As we examine youth engagement in 2020, it is useful to recall and consider young people's participation in the previous presidential cycle. In 2016:
- 39% of eligible young people turned out to vote
- Young voters favored Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over President Trump, 55% to 37%
- There were significant differences in vote choice by race—for example, 48% of White youth voted for Trump and 43% for Clinton, while 83% of Black youth voted for Clinton and 9% for Trump.