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Youth and the 2024 Election: Likely to Vote and Ready to Drive Action on Key Political Issues

CIRCLE's early poll of youth (ages 18-34) ahead of the 2024 presidential election highlights major trends in young people's political views and participation.

Authors: Peter de Guzman, Alberto Medina
Contributors: Kate Hilton, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Abby Kiesa, Kelly Siegel-Stechler, Sara Suzuki

At a Glance: Main Findings

57% Extremely Likely to Vote

57% of youth, ages 18-34, say they’re “extremely likely” to vote in 2024, and another 15% say they’re “fairly likely” to cast a ballot in the election.

+21 for Democratic Candidate

Among youth who are extremely likely to vote: 51% back the Democratic candidate, 30% the Republican, 16% undecided. 

Key Issues: Economy, Climate, Guns

Young people’s top issues are inflation/cost of living, jobs that pay a living wage, gun violence, and climate change.

Climate Linked to Voting

Youth who selected climate as a top issue were 20 points more likely than youth who did not choose climate to say they’ll vote in 2024, and 37 points more likely to prefer a Democrat for President.

19% Have Heard from Campaigns

Less than 1 in 5 young people have heard about politics and issues this year from political parties or campaigns (19%) or from community organizations (14%).

Half of Youth Struggling Mentally

Close to half of young people say they’re struggling with mental health issues like loneliness or lack of confidence, and those who do are less likely to vote.

Introduction and Background

In the past decade, young people have risen to the forefront of civic and political life in the United States. They have led major movements for action on issues like gun violence, climate, and racial justice. They have voted at historic rates compared to youth in previous decades, and their choices on the ballot have influenced key elections.

In 2024, Gen Z youth alone will make up over 40 million potential voters—including 8 million youth who will have newly reached voting age since 2022—making up nearly one fifth of the American electorate. Together with the youngest Millennials, young people ages 18-34 are poised to be a potential force in the next presidential election.

But young people are also living through trying times in their personal lives, for our country, and around the world that make their continued civic participation far from guaranteed. The nation’s economy, while strong by some accounts, has nonetheless left many young people concerned about jobs, the cost of living, and their financial situation. A mental health crisis affects many young people’s ability and desire to vote and engage in their communities. And many are looking ahead (though not necessarily looking forward) to a potential presidential rematch in 2024 between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump—two candidates that have not often garnered young people’s approval and enthusiasm.

The CIRCLE Pre-2024 Election Youth Survey provides key insights on these questions early on in the election cycle, when there is still time for campaigns and communities to take action, invest in young people, and address their needs. Crucially, it highlights critical differences by race, education and rurality that shape the political views and engagement of the most diverse generations in American history.

This initial analysis from our nationally representative poll of youth ages 18-34 reveals major trends about youth, including:

  • A majority say they’re very likely to vote in 2024, though groups like Black youth and youth without college experience, who are getting less information about the election and support to participate, are less likely to say they’ll cast a ballot.
  • Youth overall prefer a Democratic candidate by a double-digit margin, but nearly a third are undecided and some groups of youth favor a GOP nominee.
  • Issues like climate change and gun violence remain at the center of youth engagement with politics and elections, but the cost of living is, by a wide margin, young people’s top concern.

Read below for detailed data and analysis on these and other questions, and see the bottom of this page for methodology and other information about the poll.

A Majority of Youth Say They’ll Vote in 2024—But Less Sure Who to Vote For

Set to Participate: More than Half of Young People Say They’ll Vote in 2024

Key Findings and Takeaways: 

  • 57% of youth say they’re “extremely likely” to vote in 2024
  • Likelihood to vote is lower among some groups, notably Black youth, young people without college experience, and nonwhite youth in rural communities
  • These numbers are useful early indicators of engagement in the election, and of the potential to turn that interest into action. But they also show where historic inequities by race, education, and rurality threaten to persist unless communities and institutions make intentional efforts to address them.

Despite major increases in youth voter turnout in recent elections, many still believe that young people are uninterested and unlikely to vote. But with the 2024 presidential election still nearly a year away, young people (ages 18-34) are already interested in the race, and a large majority consider themselves likely to cast a ballot.

Fifty-seven percent of young people say they’re “extremely likely” to vote in 2024; previous research has identified that the number of young people who say, in pre-election polls, that  they’re “extremely” likely to participate, is often close to the number of young people who end up casting a ballot. An additional 15% of young people in our survey consider themselves “fairly likely” to vote in 2024.

Likelihood to vote is slightly lower, but still strong (51% extremely likely) among the younger 18-24 age group. That is a promising sign that speaks to the level of interest in participation among many newly eligible voters, many of whom will still need to be registered and mobilized.

Indeed, 86% of under-35 youth who voted in 2022 and 72% of those who voted in 2020 consider themselves extremely likely to vote in 2024—underscoring the habitual nature of voting and the need to focus, especially, on youth who have not cast a ballot in recent elections.

Our data also identifies three groups that, as of now, are least likely to say they will vote in 2024: Black youth (44% extremely likely), nonwhite youth in rural communities (48%), and youth without college experience (41%). These differences in likelihood to vote reflect long-standing social and civic inequities, but they can be addressed with intentional, focused, and effective support for these communities.

Likelihood to Vote Linked to Differences in 2024 Candidate Preferences

Key Findings and Takeaways:

  • Among youth who say they’re extremely likely to vote, 51% prefer a Democratic candidate in 2024, 30% a Republican, and 16% are undecided.
  • Among all youth, regardless of likelihood to vote, 37% say they’ll vote for a Democrat, 25% a Republican, and nearly a third (31%) say they don’t yet know who they’ll support.
  • Among youth overall, a GOP candidate has stronger support among white youth–especially white youth in rural areas–and young people without college experience.
  • Among all youth who say they are undecided about their 2024 vote and were eligible to vote in 2020, 37% didn’t vote, 35% voted for President Biden, and 15% voted for President Trump.
  • It’s early in the election cycle, and some young people’s voter preferences could shift. The very large share of undecided voters among youth overall suggests a need for more information and outreach that will help them settle on a candidate.

Strong youth support for Democratic candidates has been a defining feature of recent elections including the 2020 presidential race, in which youth played an influential role. Our data reveals that young people, especially those who report they’re most likely to cast a ballot in 2024, still prefer a Democratic candidate for president by a wide margin. Among youth overall, regardless of likelihood to vote, the race is closer, with a far higher number of undecided youth.

According to our survey, young people who say they’re extremely likely to vote in 2024 have a strong preference for a Democratic candidate (51%) compared to a Republican candidate (30%) or a third-party/independent candidate (3%). Sixteen percent say they’re still undecided. As stated previously, our historical data tracking suggests that this group of young people who self-report they’re extremely likely to vote may be closer to final youth turnout estimates. .

Among all youth in our survey, 37% say they’re most likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for president and 25% would vote for the Republican candidate. Seven percent say they’d vote for an independent or third-party candidate, and 31% of youth said they don’t know or remain undecided.

A double-digit difference in support for the Democratic candidate—presumably, President Biden—and a Republican challenger—who may be former President Trump, in a rematch of the 2020 election—remains significant. And while it is to be expected that more young people would be undecided nearly a year away from the election, and before having complete certainty about each Party’s candidate, it is notable that, among all youth, such a high share of youth aren’t sure who they’ll vote for heading into 2024. That represents both a need and an opportunity for all candidates, parties, and organizations to make their case to young voters.

There are also major differences in prospective support, among all youth, by factors like race, education, and rurality.

Regardless of likelihood to vote, Asian American youth (61%) and Black youth (49%) in our survey were much more likely to say they will back a Democratic candidate in 2024. Black youth were also the most likely (11%) to say, as of right now, they prefer an independent or third-party candidate. Meanwhile, among white youth, the race is much closer: 32% say they’ll likely vote for the Democrat, and 33% for the Republican. It is worth noting the margins of error for various subgroups of youth when considering this data; see the methodological information at the bottom of this analysis for additional details.

Regardless of likelihood to vote, young people without any college experience (ages 21-34) are also more likely to prefer a Republican to a Democrat in the 2024 presidential race: 30% vs. 23%. However, a plurality of youth without college experience (40%) are undecided. Rural youth also prefer a Republican, though that preference is mostly driven by race/ethnicity. White rural youth favor a Republican presidential candidate over a Democrat by 30 points, 46% to 16%, but it’s the reverse among nonwhite rural youth: 41% for a Democrat and 21% for a Republican.

The high share of undecided voters (31%) among all youth in our survey is notable, though not totally unexpected far out from the election. When looking at youth attitudes regardless of likelihood to vote, there appear to be undecided youth across the political spectrum: 35% percent of youth who are undecided about 2024 candidates voted for President Biden in 2020, while 15% voted for former President Trump. A plurality (37%) did not vote—despite being eligible—in the 2020 presidential election. Likewise, nearly two-thirds of these 2024 undecided voters (64%) did not vote in 2022 despite being eligible. As we explore elsewhere in this analysis, young people who have not been regularly participating in elections often need the most information and support.

Many of the undecided youth among the whole youth sample are interested in voting in 2024 even if they don’t yet know for whom. While 31% of undecided youth said they’re unlikely to vote in the next presidential election, 31% say they’re extremely likely to cast a ballot and another 15% consider themselves fairly likely to vote. That suggests a significant number of young people are open to parties and candidates making their case and earning their votes.

Diverse Issue Priorities, Like Climate, Shape Youth Votes and Action

The Economy, Gun Violence, and Climate Change are Young People’s Top Issues

Key Findings and Takeaways: 

  • While young people’s views and action on social issues like abortion and gun violence often garner the most attention, and remain highly salient, young people are sending a clear message that their primary concern is the economy. 53% chose the cost of living/inflation among their three top issues, followed by jobs that pay a living wage (28%), addressing climate change, and gun violence prevention (both 26%)
  • Black youth are significantly more likely than their peers of other racial groups to prioritize gun violence prevention, fighting racism, and student debt. Their markedly different issue priorities have implications for their likelihood to participate and how to best engage them.

Young people’s concern about and action on issues they care about has been a major feature of their civic and political engagement in recent years. Our data reveals that youth continue to care about a wide range of issues—with different groups of youth often prioritizing issues differently—but overall are most focused on a handful of priorities.

Far and away, inflation and the cost of living is young people’s number one concern, with 53% of youth selecting it as one of their top three issues. That’s followed by another economic issue: jobs that pay a living wage (28%), and closely followed by gun violence prevention and addressing climate change, which were both chosen by 26% of youth. Expanding abortion access (19%) rounds out young people’s top five issues.

Youth in this survey had the same top five issues, though in a different order, that young people identified as their highest priorities immediately after the 2022 election. They’re also the same top five issues, with very little difference, among the younger 18-24 age group.

While no other issue was selected by more than 13% of youth overall, ten different issues were chosen as a top-3 priority by at least 1 in 10 youth. That includes several issues that matter most to conservative youth, like securing the border and reducing the national debt. This suggests young people are concerned about a wide range of topics.

Our previous research has also highlighted that youth tend to see connections between issues: for example, they may be concerned about the implications for racial justice of abortion rights, the economic impact of climate change, or the effect of gun violence on public education. These intersections may not always be reflected when young people are asked to rank issues, but they are at the heart of how many youth think about politics.

Some differences in issue priorities by race/ethnicity did emerge, particularly among Black youth, who were much more likely to select gun violence prevention, fighting racism, and student loan debt as priorities. In fact, Black youth’s top five issues look markedly different: inflation/cost of living (44%), gun violence prevention (36%), jobs that pay a living wage (35%), fighting racism (32%), and student debt (23%).

Climate-Focused Youth More Engaged, Decided, and Civically Active

Key Findings and Takeaways:

  • Compared to young people who did not prioritize climate, youth who named climate change one of their top three issues are among the most likely to say they’ll vote in 2024 and support a Democrat in that election—continuing a trend of that issue having a strong influence on young people’s political participation.
  • Youth prioritize climate because more than 60% view it as a serious threat, and nearly 3 in 4 youth say their communities have already experienced related events like unusually high temperatures, droughts, or floods.
  • Only 13% of young people say they’re satisfied with the federal government’s actions on climate change.
  • This issue, which consistently ranks among young people’s top priorities, exemplifies the potential for campaigns, organizations, and other stakeholders to engage youth by explicitly connecting elections to issues they care about.

Climate change has consistently been one of young people’s top issues in recent election cycles, and our previous research has found links between concern about climate and likelihood to vote or take other forms of political action. Our data shows that may once again be the case in 2024.

Among all of young people’s issue priorities, climate change had one of the strongest links to young people’s self-reported intention to vote in our survey. Seventy-two percent of young people who chose addressing climate change among their top three issues said they’re extremely likely to vote in 2024—slightly higher than for other major issues like abortion (70%), gun violence (64%).

Other issues largely prioritized by conservative youth, like opposing wokeness/cancel culture and restricting access to abortion, also had a high association with likelihood to vote. Issues related to the economy, like cost of living/inflation and jobs that pay a living wage, despite being selected most frequently by all youth as top concerns, had among the lowest association with likelihood to vote. As we explore in the final section of this analysis, that may be related in part to these issues being more salient for young people who have not participated in recent elections. But it also suggests a potential lack of outreach to youth focused on economic issues.

Concern for climate also had one of the strongest links to support for a Democratic Party candidate in 2024. Among youth who prioritize climate change, 65% said they would vote for the Democrat if the election were held today—and only 5% for the Republican candidate. On the other hand, among youth who did not name climate one of their top three issues, 28% said they’re most likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.

Issues like climate that appear to drive Democratic support from youth may be especially critical since the presidential race is a dead heat when it comes to young people’s #1 issue: the cost of living/inflation. Among youth who selected that as a top-3 issue priority, 30% say they’ll likely vote for the Republican candidate in 2024, and 30% for the Democratic candidate.

Climate-focused young people’s overwhelming intention to vote Democratic in 2024 suggests that they may be giving the current administration some credit for policies like the Inflation Reduction Act. Among youth who selected climate change as one of their top three priorities, 69% said they view that legislation somewhat or very favorably. At the same time, among youth overall, half say they have not seen or heard much about the federal government’s actions on this issue, and only 13% of young people say they’re satisfied with its efforts to address climate change in the past two years. It would be a mistake for any party or candidate to assume that they have met young people’s expectations on this issue.

Young people’s strong views on climate change are informed by a deeply held sense of the issue’s importance and by the direct impact it is having on their lives. Three in five young people agree that climate change is a serious threat, and nearly three in four youth say they have personally experienced at least one event or circumstance that may be related to climate change.

Forty-two percent of young people say they’ve faced poor air quality, 41% unusually hot weather, 24% events like hurricanes and floods, and 16% droughts or water shortages. Young people in Gulf states were even more likely to say they or their community has experienced each of these climate-related problems.

These views on and experiences with climate change are encouraging some young people to take action themselves. Youth in our survey who selected climate as one of their top three issues were more likely than other youth to engage in several forms of civic action. Compared to youth overall, climate-focused youth were more likely to attend a protest, donate or help raise money for a cause, sign a petition/join a boycott, or contact an elected official.

Information and Support, Key to Youth Engagement, Are Often Still Lacking

Youth Feel Powerful But Some Are Struggling Ahead of 2024, And Not All Are Being Supported

Key Findings and Takeaways:

  • This generation of young people has come of age at a time of massive economic, democratic, and life-and-death disruptions like school shootings and the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half indicate they’re struggling with loneliness or lack of confidence, and 1 in 5 say their financial situation is bad.
  • Information about issues and elections, and support from their communities, can help youth engage in democracy—especially if they’re struggling. But only 35% of youth feel supported to act on their political concerns, and less than 1 in 5 have heard from a political party or a community organization this year.
  • Lack of support can leave youth feeling unqualified to vote: Black and Multiracial/Other youth, and those without college experience, are less likely to feel qualified.
  • Many of the differences in likelihood to vote that turn into historical inequities in voter turnout can be traced back to these gaps in who is learning about elections and being supported by their communities. Closing these gaps is an essential task leading up to the 2024 election.

Young people’s strong self-reported likelihood to vote, and their civic action beyond the ballot box, highlights their interest in engaging and pursuing political change. About two-thirds of young people in our survey (65%) agree or strongly agree that youth today have the power to change things in the country.

At the same time, many young people are struggling. Close to half of youth in our survey said that, in the past two weeks, there have been multiple days in which they felt alone or lonely (44%), like their life is outside of their control (46%), or feeling a lack of self-confidence (52%). Some youth are also struggling financially: 1 in 5 say their financial situation is somewhat or very bad, and another 30% say it’s neither good nor bad.

Across all these dimensions of mental and financial well-being, there is a strong association with electoral participation. Youth who said they are struggling were also much less likely to say they will vote in the 2024 presidential election.

Young people—especially those who may be struggling—need access to information about issues and elections, and support for electoral participation, in order to be in the best position to engage in democracy. That support can take many forms, but for too many youth it remains lacking or unequal.

According to our survey, a majority of youth (67%) have been seeing or hearing information—online or offline—about politics and elections from people they know (friends, family, classmates, etc.) and from local (59%) and national (55%) media. But far fewer young people have been contacted by political parties or campaigns (19%), or by community groups and organizations (14%), who may be better positioned to support young people’s electoral engagement and directly connect young people’s priorities and concerns to upcoming elections and other opportunities to participate in civic life.

Moreover, just over a third (35%) of young people report that there are people, organizations, or resources in their community that can help them make sense of and act on the information I find about social and political issues. Some youth feel even less supported: just 27% of young people in rural communities and 22% of youth *ages 21-34) without college experience say that they believe support is there for them.

Youth in our survey who say that they’ve received information and that they feel supported are more likely to say they intend to vote in 2024. This access and support can help young people feel prepared to participate, which has a very strong association with likelihood to vote. Nearly two-thirds of youth in our survey (62%) say they feel qualified enough to vote; among those who do, 88% say they’re likely to vote in 2024, compared to just 42% among those who don’t feel qualified.

Black youth (47%), Multiracial/Other (52%) youth, young people without college experience (50%), and those in the 18-24 age group (55%) were all less likely to say they feel well-qualified—and less likely to say they intend to vote in 2024.

Young Nonvoters: Who They Are and How to Engage Them

Key Findings and Takeaways:

  • The challenges to equitably engaging youth, like lack of information and support, are highly concentrated among a group of young people who did not vote in 2020 and say they’re unlikely to vote in 2024. They are much less likely to have heard about how to register and about elections, and therefore feel less qualified to vote.
  • 2020 and 2024 nonvoters are more likely to be struggling financially and much more likely to prioritize economic issues, which suggests a potential avenue for reaching and engaging them on matters that are affecting their lives.
  • Half of young people (ages 21-34) who didn’t vote in 2020 and say they’re unlikely to vote in 2024 have no college experience. Reaching these youth who may be more disconnected to institutional pathways to engagement will likely require additional investment. But that will make the biggest difference in expanding the electorate, closing equity gaps, and strengthening democracy in 2024.

Young people have had historic participation rates in recent elections, but we should not assume that high youth turnout will automatically continue. Challenges in young people’s lives, the ongoing problems of a struggling democracy, and some attempts to make it harder for young people to vote could combine to roll back the gains of the previous years.

Moreover, even as youth turnout has been high compared to previous elections, according to our estimates half of young people (ages 18-29) did not vote in 2020, and 3 out of 4 youth in that age group did not vote in 2022.

It is critical to identify and understand these young people who have not participated in the most recent presidential election and, as of now, consider themselves unlikely to vote in 2024. With nearly one year to go before the next election, there is still time and opportunity to reach and engage these youth.

While differences in voter turnout by race/ethnicity remain one of the most persistent and troubling inequities in civic participation, there are no major differences by race between these 2020 and 2024 nonvoters and youth overall.

There are major differences, however, in whether young people have access to information about politics and are feeling qualified for political participation. More than 2 in 5 (42%) of this group of nonvoters wholly disagreed with the statement that they feel qualified-enough to vote—compared to just 11% of other youth who consider themselves unqualified. That may in part be a reflection of personal struggles and of systemic failures to support them: these youth are more likely to say they’re not doing well financially or mentally, and more likely to say they feel unsupported by those around them.

Moreover, youth who did not vote in 2020 and say they’re unlikely to vote in 2024 are much less likely to say they’ve seen at least some information about state and local elections (34% vs. 68% of other youth) or about when and where to register to vote (34% vs. 66%). They’re also less likely to hear about political issues from the media, from campaigns, and from community organizations.

Perhaps because they lack consistent information, the vast majority (71%) of 2020 and 2024 nonvoters say they’re undecided about who to support if they were to cast a ballot in the next presidential election. This group of youth is also nearly twice as likely as youth overall to say they don’t consider themselves either Republicans or Democrats: 66% vs. 29%. That suggests there is a massive opportunity for all parties and candidates to reach these young people and earn their support.

One potentially effective way to engage this group of youth may be to focus on economic issues. While the cost of living and jobs are the top two issues for all youth, 2020 and 2024 nonvoters were 12 points more likely to choose jobs that pay a living wage as one of their main issue priorities—and less likely to choose gun violence and climate change. That may be due, in part, to the fact that this group of youth is struggling financially more than their peers. In any case, it underscores that young people are not a monolith, and that different issues will resonate with different groups of youth.

About the Survey

The CIRCLE Pre-2024 Election Youth Survey was developed by CIRCLE at Tufts University, and the polling firm Ipsos collected the data from their nationally representative panel of respondents between October 25 and November 2, 2023. The study surveyed a total of 2,017 self-reported U.S. citizens ages 18 to 34 in the United States; unless otherwise mentioned, data are for all 18- to 34-year-olds in our sample. When data is reported by educational experience (college/no college) the sample used is youth ages 21-34 in order to account for young people who may pursue higher education later in life.

The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is +/- 2.63 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error for racial and ethnic subgroups at the 95% confidence level are as follows: White Non-Hispanic (3.17%), Black Non-Hispanic (8.11%), and Latino (6.41%). The margins of error for Asian American youth and for Multiracial/Other youth are above 10%.

About CIRCLE: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) is a non-partisan, independent research organization focused on youth civic engagement in the United States. We conduct extensive research on youth participation, and we leverage that research to improve opportunities for all young people to acquire and use the skills and knowledge they need to meaningfully participate in civic life. In all of our work, we are especially concerned with understanding, addressing, and ultimately eliminating the systemic barriers that keep some young people marginalized from and underrepresented in civic life. CIRCLE is part of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

About Our Supporters: The CIRCLE Pre-2024 Election Youth Survey was supported by ACE and Climate Power.

  • Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE) is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works at the nexus of youth, climate, media, and civic engagement to accelerate our pathway to a decarbonized world. ACE engaged more than 30 million young voters in its nonpartisan voter education and civic engagement programs during the 2022 midterm elections. ACE utilizes leading-edge media strategies to combat dangerous disinformation, drive action-taking, and increase diverse participation in the democratic process. 
  • Climate Power is an independent strategic communications and paid media operation focused on educating Americans about climate action. Climate Power integrates hard-hitting research, polling, state and national earned media, digital and paid media to elevate the urgency of the climate crisis and inform the public about the bold action taken to combat climate change.

Additional support was provided by the Rural Democracy Initiative, the Alliance for Youth Action, and Kettering Foundation.