Young Voters in 2022: Black and Non-College Youth Were Underrepresented
Lead Author: Sara Suzuki
Contributors: Peter de Guzman, Alberto Medina
CIRCLE estimates that 27% of young people (ages 18-29) turned out to vote in the 2022 midterms and had a major impact on key elections around the country. Young voters were also not a monolith, with sometimes large differences between youth of different genders and ethnicities in which party they supported and in their positions on key issues that influenced their votes. For example, nearly 9 out of 10 young voters of color (86%) indicated that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to about two-thirds (65%) of white youth.
It’s also important to consider potential differences between youth who voted in 2022 and those who did not participate and the extent to which the 27% of young people who cast a ballot in the midterms are representative of youth overall. As we work to grow the number of young people who show up to vote, we must also focus on reaching youth who may be underrepresented due to their lack of access to the necessary resources, support, and cultural conditions.
In this analysis, we compare the demographics of young voters to the demographics of all young U.S. citizens ages 18-29. We find:
- White youth were overrepresented among voters in 2022 and have been since 2006. In contrast, Black youth are consistently underrepresented among voters.
- That pattern is driven in large part by an overrepresentation of white women, who make up 27% of all citizens in that age group but 33% of the youth electorate, and an underrepresentation of Black men: 7% of young citizens but only 4% of young voters.
- Among and across all racial groups, youth who have not attended college were heavily underrepresented among voters in 2022.
- Many of these patterns of underrepresentation can be traced back to structural barriers and ongoing inequities in young people’s civic education and engagement.
White Youth Were Overrepresented among 2022 Voters
According to 2022 exit poll data, 64% of young voters (ages 18-29) identified as white, which is higher than the 55% of citizens in that age group who identified as white according to 2021 U.S. Census data. That 9-percentage-point difference represents a fairly significant overrepresentation of white youth in the electorate. At the same time, youth who identified as Black and youth who identified in the “Other” racial category (i.e., did not identify as white, Black, Asian, or Hispanic) were underrepresented among voters. The proportions of young Hispanic voters in 2022 and young Hispanic citizens in the voting-age population are similar, and the same is true for Asian youth.
According to our examination of exit poll data dating back to 2006, the demographic breakdown of young voters has largely remained the same. One exception is in 2018, when the proportion of Hispanic voters increased and has remained at a higher level in the past two election cycles. (We do note that, starting in 2018, the Edison Research incorporated new statistical weighting procedures designed to improve the accuracy of the size of groups reported by age and education. The increase in Hispanic voters in 2018 may be attributed in part to these survey design changes.)
But the trend showing overrepresentation of white youth and underrepresentation of Black youth and “Other” youth has remained consistent.
Underrepresentation in the electorate should not be seen as a sign of political apathy. Our research shows that youth of color are enthusiastic about and engaged in civic life. For instance, in our nationally representative survey conducted in 2020, more than 1 in 4 Black and Hispanic youth reported interest in running for public office. They were also about as likely as white youth to say that they felt like part of a group or movement that would vote to express their views.
However, youth of color may be more likely to face barriers to voting. For example, restrictive voter ID laws are more likely to negatively impact turnout among voters of color, and young people of color are more likely to report facing barriers like a lack of transportation and long lines at the polls. In addition, at a time when mail-in voting is becoming an increasingly important voting method, states with a high proportion of Black youth in their population are less likely to have policies like all-mail voting in place.
Electoral Representation at the Intersection of Race and Gender
Young women have been at the forefront of civic and political participation in recent years—especially young women of color. In 2020, we found that young women had a significantly higher youth voter turnout than young men: 55% vs. 44%. We find that young women were very slightly overrepresented in the 2022 youth electorate: making up 51% of all youth who voted, compared to their 49% share of the population in that age group.
By analyzing electoral representation by race/ethnicity and gender together, we glean more detailed insights into differences in electoral participation that may be driven by disparities in access. Notably, our analysis shows that the overrepresentation of white youth is largely driven by an overrepresentation of young white women in the electorate. On the other hand, the underrepresentation of Black youth is largely driven by the underrepresentation of young Black men; the proportion of young Black women in the population and in the electorate was nearly the same.
With Hispanic youth the trend was reversed: young Hispanic men were overrepresented in the 2022 electorate compared to their share of the population, and young Hispanic women were slightly underrepresented.
In addition to the logistical and legal barriers to participation discussed earlier, contact from campaigns and organizations can also influence whether youth turn out to vote. Our research has found differences in outreach to various groups of youth that could explain the data above. For example, in our analysis of youth outreach in several battleground states in the month leading up to the 2020 election, young Hispanic men were more likely to be contacted by a Democratic or Republican campaign than Black men.
At the same time, outreach to young Black men from local organizations in the regions analyzed surpassed outreach to young Hispanic men, pointing to a need to explore whether and how various institutions are reaching youth and what it may mean for their access to voting.
Major Underrepresentation of Youth Without College Experience
For many young people, educational institutions play a large role in their experience of emerging adulthood. However, it is important to note that less than half of young citizens who are 18-29 years are currently attending school (high school or higher education institutions). That has major implications for our democracy, as educational experience has been associated with voter turnout among young people stretching back as far as the 1970s.
In 2022, we found an extraordinary level of electoral underrepresentation of youth who have never attended college. Among all young voters in 2022, 12% had no college experience and 87% had at least some college experience. In contrast, 2021 U.S. Census data showed that among young citizens ages 18-29, 40% had no college experience, while 60% had at least some college experience. That large, 28-percentage-point gap between the percentage of youth without college experience in the population and in the electorate represents a major disenfranchisement of youth who have a high school degree or lower educational attainment.
We also examined whether this trend was consistent across multiple groups of youth by race and gender. We found that the underrepresentation of youth who have not attended college was consistent across all subgroups that we had data for: white men and women, Black men and women, and Hispanic men and women.
As with the trends among some youth of color, our research points to some possible explanations for the underrepresentation of youth without college experience in the electorate. Our survey of 14- to 17-year-olds found that many teens are not learning about elections and voting in school and that this has implications for their level of civic engagement. Youth who do not attend college may have had limited exposure to civic education, whereas youth in college may have additional opportunities for civic education. Our previous study in partnership with Opportunity Youth United also found that among a group that primarily consisted of young people experiencing poverty, many reported barriers to voting including lack of knowledge about the process, difficulty reaching voting locations, and cultural barriers such as an absence of poll workers who “look like them.” Young people who have not had access to institutions of higher education may be more likely to experience the barriers reported by Opportunity Youth United study participants.
The underrepresentation of some youth in the 2022 electorate, and the fact that some of these trends are persistent across almost two decades of data, point to major inequities in how we prepare and engage young people to become informed voters. Closing these gaps will require concerted efforts from institutions and communities to ensure that election policies, civic education, campaign outreach, and other elements of the ecosystem that reaches youth are working together to grow voters equitably.
About the Analysis: We used data from the National Election Pool survey conducted by Edison Research between 2006 and 2022, as well as analyses of the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (the most recent data available at the time of writing). The comparison is not perfect: for example, the questions about race/ethnicity were not asked in the same way, and sampling in both surveys was shaped by different design decisions and may have different biases. That said, the trend of white youth being overrepresented in the electorate and some youth of color being underrepresented is consistent with findings about the representativeness of the electorate among adults of all ages.
CIRCLE Growing Voters
Released in 2022, the CIRCLE Growing Voters report introduces a new framework to transform how communities and institutions prepare youth for democracy. It includes major recommendations for organizations across sectors to do this work more equitably and effectively.