Black Youth Value Voting, Have Political Ambition, Face Barriers to Engagement
Authors: Lily Feng, Sara Suzuki
Contributors: Alberto Medina, Katie Hilton
At a Glance: Main Takeaways
Lower Voting Rate
Our previous research estimated that 15% of Black youth voted in 2022, compared to 23% of youth overall.
Less Likely to Vote by Mail
Black youth were much less likely than youth overall to vote by mailing in their ballot in 2022: 24% vs. 34%.
Want to Run for Office
Nearly 1 in 5 Black youth said they were interested in running for office, a sign of interest in leadership.
Two months ago Black activists and organizers commemorated Black August, a month dedicated to learning from and honoring the continued engagement in political resistance by members of the Black community. Building on this moment of reflection, we present findings on the civic engagement of Black youth from a national poll conducted by CIRCLE after the 2022 midterms.
We detail unique findings on Black youth’s attitudes about the role they can play in our democracy and how those attitudes may be translating to trends in their political activities and ambitions. We further highlight how knowledge barriers and other systemic obstacles may be limiting Black youth from exercising their full potential and power.
Black Youth are Still Underrepresented
The full electoral participation of all young people is needed for our increasingly multiracial society to be a thriving and just democracy. However, Black youth participated at a lower rate than many of their peers in the 2022 midterms: the turnout of Black youth was 15%, significantly lower than that of Asian youth (21%) and White youth (29%).
While the overall youth turnout (23%) for the 2022 midterms reflects an emerging trend of greater civic participation by young people in the last decade, Black youth remain underrepresented in this new wave of youth participation. The 15% turnout by Black youth in 2022 translated to them making up 14% of youth in the United States but only 9% of young voters.
Note: Unlike the rest of the data in this analysis, which comes from our 2022 survey, turnout-data includes youth who identify only as Black, not those who identify as Black and some other race/ethnicity.
Because Black youth prioritize different issues compared to their peers, their electoral underrepresentation can have implications for what issues are brought to the attention of the nation’s elected leaders. For example, in 2022, Black youth said racism, inflation/gas prices, and jobs that pay a living wage were their top three issues. Meanwhile, among non-Black youth, the top three issues were inflation, abortion, and climate change.
Black Youth Vote to Exercise their Right and Power
The lower turnout of Black youth may not be due to apathy or a lack of interest in voting. Many groups, including Black youth, have historically been prevented from voting. Our poll suggests that Black youth are aware of this history, valuing their vote as a right and as a way to effect change.
Specifically, our analysis found that young Black voters were 10 points more likely than other young voters to say they voted in 2022 because "voting is a right," and slightly more likely to say they voted because "my vote can affect the outcome." This resonates with research by the New Georgia Project that found 49% of Black voters in Georgia, ages 18-50, are motivated to vote because "people have sacrificed for my right and civic duty to vote."
Deeper Dive: Black Youth's Motivations for Voting
In our data we found that Black youth were much less likely to be say they voted because "voting is my responsibility." Compared to 40% of non-Black youth citing this as the main reason they voted in 2022, half that number (21%) among Black youth cited this as their reason.
We believe this is an important finding to explore further in future research, as research on civic engagement that is not with a sample of Black youth have tended to emphasize youth’s feelings of social responsibility and sense of moral duty as drivers of their civic participation.
The way that Black youth approach voting may have less to do with responsibility and duty. A different set of factors seem to be motivating Black youth to vote—factors that are centered around historical significance and having an impact on issues.
Information Barriers and Other Structural Challenges Hinder Black Youth
Despite a strong belief that voting is both their right and a way to have impact, Black youth may have lower turnout due to barriers they face both registering and voting. Close to 1 in 5 Black youth (17%) who were unregistered in 2022 said they either did not know how to register to vote, had trouble with their voter registration, or missed the registration deadline. All of these suggest a lack of information about the when and how logistics of the process.
The information barrier also extended to whether Black youth cast a ballot. More than 1 in 5 Black youth who did not vote in 2022 (whether or not they were registered) reported that it was because they "did not have enough information" or because they had "problems with absentee ballots.”
In sum, a large number of young Black people face barriers to voting because of a lack of access to the necessary information and knowledge—not just about the issues but about the voting process itself. This reflects systemic barriers to full participation in our democracy that may be remedied by strengthening their access to civic resources, including detailed information about how to register, deadlines for registration, and how to correctly cast absentee ballots.
Our data on Black youth’s voting methods in 2022 also sheds some light on the impact and persistence of structural barriers that may also help explain turnout disparities. Only 24% of Black youth voted by mail, compared to 34% of non-Black youth, which could be attributable to Black youth having less experience and information about voting by mail. Even though research has begun to show that the ease of mail voting can boost participation among youth and people of color, prior CIRLCE research has found that Black youth had less experience with mail-in voting and are more likely to live in states where policies regarding mail-in voting are more restrictive.
Black Youth Are Interested In Civic Engagement
Civic engagement goes beyond voting, and it is important to examine how young people are involved in other civic activities. Our 2022 data shows that Black youth’s participation rates in several activities including attending a demonstration, volunteering or donating to a campaign, or attending campaign events were similar to those of non-Black youth.
However, when it came to other civic activities, Black youth lagged behind their peers. Black youth were 9-percentage-points less likely to have signed a petition or joined a boycott than non-Black youth, and 9-percentage-points less likely to follow a candidate on social media.
There may be potential to involve more Black youth in the wide variety of civic activities available. Our data revealed many Black youth have plans or hopes for future civic engagement, with many saying that they “will definitely do this in the future” about all of the civic activities mentioned above. Indeed, the rates at which Black youth haven’t yet, but say the definitely plan to engage in these activities in the future were often higher than those of their non-Black peers.
Findings about Black youth’s sense of political self-efficacy may help explain this gap between intent and actual participation among Black youth: we found that Black youth scored lower on political self-efficacy than non-Black youth. Political self-efficacy is an important indicator of whether youth feel motivated and qualified to participate, and is an important ingredient in young people developing their identity as capable civic actors.
Black Youth More Likely to Want to Run for Office
One of the most striking differences between Black and non-Black youth in our survey is in their level of interest in running for office. More than twice as many Black youth (19% vs. 9%) reported that they were somewhat or very interested in a career in politics.
Black youth also feel qualified to run for office at similar rates to their peers (16% vs. 15%). However, more than 1 in 5 Black youth are “extremely concerned” about losing income or work while running for office. Prior research by CIRCLE on youth candidates for office found that, compared to older adults, young people were disproportionately more likely to have financial concerns about running for office.
Our findings suggest that explicit encouragement to run for office can add to the interest in political careers among Black youth, and, that who the outreach is coming from may matter. Overall, Black youth received encouragement to run for office at similar rates to other youth, but they were more likely to receive encouragement from formal candidate training programs and members of the media. If those supporting youth to run for office can address the financial and other barriers that they face, in addition to providing encouragement, we may see higher rates of Black and other youth in elected positions in the future.
In line with the historic levels of youth civic engagement in our democracy, our research has shown that Black youth are interested in engaging in different civic activities. However, our data also reveal that Black youth disproportionately experience barriers and challenges to accessing civic opportunities. In order to see higher rates of civic participation from Black youth in the future, communities and institutions must bolster access to civic information and build stronger structural support for civic engagement.
About the Data: These data come from the CIRCLE 2022 post-election poll, a nationally representative poll of youth ages 18-29. The findings shared in this post come from analyses on a subsample of 385 U.S. citizens 18-29 years old who self-identified as Black or Black and one or more additional race/ethnicity groups. Note that, compared to a benchmark of a Black youth subsample from the American Community Survey, our subsample of Black youth tended to come from households with higher income.