2020 Youth Voter Turnout by Race/Ethnicity and Gender
Young people had a major impact on the 2020 election. We recently estimated that half of youth (ages 18-29) cast a ballot last November—a remarkable 11-point increase over youth voter turnout in 2016. Our previous analyses have also highlighted that youth turnout differed drastically by state: as high as 67% in some, and as low as 32% in others.
Young people’s electoral participation also differed, sometimes drastically, by race/ethnicity and gender. We previously reported on demographic differences in vote choice, with young people of color preferring President Biden by much wider margins than white youth, and with a majority of young white men actually preferring former President Trump. This new analysis looks at youth voter turnout by race/ethnicity and gender. We find:
- White youth voted at a higher rate (61%) than young people of other races/ethnicities
- Young white people have historically had higher turnout than Asian and Latino youth, Asian youth especially appear to be closing the gap
- Young women (55%) voted at a higher rate than young men (44%), and that was true for every racial/ethnic group for which we have reliable data
Youth Diversify the Electorate, But Young White People Still Vote at the Highest Rate
As CIRCLE has often highlighted, today’s youth are the most diverse generation in American history and the most diverse segment of the electorate. That diversity will only increase: by 2025, projections suggest that 50% of 14- to 24-year-olds will be people of color, an increase of 11 percentage points over two decades.
In 2020, 43% of voting-eligible youth (ages 18-29) were people of color. However, according to our calculations of youth voter turnout based on Catalist voter file data, white youth continued to turn out to vote at a higher rate than young people of color. We estimate that 61% of white youth voted in 2020, compared to 47% of Asian and 48% of Latino youth, and 43% of Black youth. That difference in turnout led to white youth being overrepresented among young voters: despite being 58% of the population (according to Census American Community Survey data), young white people accounted for 65% of all ballots cast by voters under age 30.
We should note that different data sources produce different estimates. The Census Current Population Survey (CPS), the only source that allows us to go back decades in order to show historical trends, paints a slightly different picture of youth voter turnout by race/ethnicity 2020—especially for young people of color. But CPS estimates underscore a similar trend as the voter file estimates: a relatively stubborn turnout gap between white and nonwhite youth.
The historical trendline, using Census data (below), highlights that youth voter turnout increased among every racial/ethnic group in 2020, but may have increased the most among Asian-American youth. Meanwhile, Black youth—whose voter turnout has historically been higher than that of Asian and Latinos but still lagged behind white youth except in both of President Obama’s elections— had the most modest increase in electoral participation.
More data and research are needed to understand the exact reasons for the smaller turnout increase among Black youth, but in 2020 one key factor may have been their geographical distribution vis-a-vis vote by mail. Young Black people are more concentrated in the South, where vote-by-mail processes were generally more restrictive and, on average, states have fewer facilitative election laws.
The chart below shows the turnout of youth by race for each region. Voting gaps between white and nonwhite youth were smaller in the regions that are more racially diverse: the West/Southwest and the South. This is partially driven by high turnout of Asian youth across the board, but also the high turnout rates of young Latinos in the South/Southwest.
Youth Voting Gender Gap Remains
There was also a big difference in turnout rates by gender. Just like in 2018, young women voted at higher rates than young men in 2020: 55% compared to 44%. That trend held across all racial/ethnic groups. According to estimates based on Catalist voter file data, young white women had the highest turnout rate (60%), followed by young Latinas (56%). The gender gap in electoral participation was 7 points among white and Asian American youth, but much more pronounced for Black and Latino youth, among whom there were 16- and 17-point gaps, respectively, between the voter turnout of young men and women.
CIRCLE polling data has previously highlighted that young women of color don’t just vote at higher rates than their male peers; they are more engaged in elections and civic life generally and are more likely to hear from organizations and campaigns—which can lead to higher turnout. At the other side of the spectrum, we see the lowest youth voter turnout among young men of color, especially young Black men, who are disproportionately locked out of the voting process due to felony convictions.
Understanding and addressing some of the long-standing inequities in youth voting by race/ethnicity and gender is crucial to broadening the electorate and creating a truly representative democracy. Our data underscores that different communities of young people may be facing different barriers to voting and may require different strategies to overcome them.