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Young Voters in the 2016 General Election

Explore our comprehensive report of youth turnout, vote choice, and the composition of the youth electorate

Since Election Day, CIRCLE’s analysis has focused on whom young people voted for, how many voted, and which segments of the youth population cast their ballots—placing each in historical context by examining trends from recent elections. Today’s analysis looks more deeply at the youth vote in the 2016 presidential race, offering a breakdown of young people’s support for each major candidate and for the political parties they represent. We also consider the long-term implications, for both Democrats and Republicans, of a youth electorate that is increasingly loathe to identify strongly with either major party.

Major findings include:

The Youth Electorate

  • CIRCLE analysis suggests that young people voted at a similar rate than in 2012 – around 50%. In 11 battleground states, on aggregate, 55% of youth turned out to vote.
  • The racial and ethnic composition of the 2016 youth electorate closely mirrored the general population of young citizens, and remained as diverse as it has been since 2008, though this year there was a surge of young, White, male voters.
  • Young people without college experience, already historically underrepresented, made up a smaller share of the young people who cast ballots than in recent elections.
  • Less than 4 in 10 young voters identified with the Democratic Party and less than 3 in 10 identified with the Republican Party, suggesting that America’s two major parties are having trouble attracting a substantial youth base.

The Youth Vote for Trump and Clinton

  • President-elect Trump lost the youth vote overall by 55% to 37%, but he garnered support from some segments of the youth electorate: Whites, evangelicals, and young people in rural areas.
  • While Secretary Clinton won by large margins among demographic groups like unmarried young women and youth of color, she lacked key support from young Whites, young men, and young White moderates.
  • President-elect Trump drew significant support from young people whose ideas and concerns tracked closely with the key themes of his campaign: the state of the country,stronger immigration controls, and a the perceived untrustworthiness of his opponent.

Implications for the Future

  • Young people are clamoring for significant change, though there are deep divisions on what that change should look like. Youth also seem increasingly skeptical of the two major political parties’ ability to bring the change they seek.
  • Moderates, Independents, and other young people who eschew the ideological extremes and strong party identification, appear to be a rising force in the youth electorate. They may also be harder to mobilize if they don’t engage with the traditional party—and partisan—organizations that for many youth provide structures and opportunities for political and broader civic engagement.
  • There’s another national election in two years! Only one in five young young people voted in the 2014 midterms, and after an election in which many youth were disappointed with both nominees (and most youth voted for the losing candidate) it may be even harder to keep youth politically motivated. Stronger civic education and strategic, intentional youth outreach remains key.