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Education Gap Persists: College Grads Vote at Higher Rates in 2012

We estimate that 66% of young people with at least some college experience voted in 2012, compared with 35% of those who have not attended college

Previous research has shown a strong correlation between college experience and political engagement. About 40 percent of young eligible voters between the age of 18 to 29 have not attended college. Our recent report, That’s Not Democracy: How Out-of-School Youth Engage in Civic Life and What Stands In Their Way, shows they are interested in participation but face a systematic lack of civic opportunities. Not being asked to participate can have detrimental effects on motivation and efficacy. Since early civic engagement can lead to engagement later in life, whether we close this gap will have a significant effect on the future of democracy.

In a new fact sheet, we describe youth participation in the 2012 election by educational attainment (Our pre-2012 analysis of youth voting by educational experience can be found here). This fact sheet is the third in a series CIRCLE is producing on the youth who voted in 2012. The first, an overview of young voters compared to older voters, can be found hereThe second analysis is a deeper understanding of the preferences and beliefs of young voters by gender and race.

Some findings from this analysis include:

  • Although 60% of the U.S. citizens between ages of 18-29 have gone to college, 71% of the young voters had attended college, meaning that college-educated young people were overrepresented among young people who voted.
  • We estimate that 66% of eligible youth who have any college experience turned out to vote, while 35% of youth with no college experience turned out to vote.
  • Non-college youth voters were more ethnically diverse than their college educated peers.  The racial and ethnic makeup of non-college voters was: 49% White, 22% Black, 24% Latino, and 4% Asian. The racial and ethnic makeup of young voters with college experience was: 61% White, 14% Black, 17% Latino and 6% Asian.
  • A higher percentage of non-college young voters identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual than youth with college experience
  • Youth with and without college experience did not differ much in their vote choices. Yet, youth with college experience were more likely to approve of the President (69%), compared to youth without college experience (52%).

  • Reasons for choosing the candidate differed by college experience. When asked what qualities mattered most in deciding how they voted, 34% of youth without college experience said “caring about people like them” mattered most, whereas youth with college experience said the most important quality was to “have a vision for the future” (32%).
  • Youth with and without college experience were most likely to say that Romney’s policies favored the rich (59% and 58%); however, 12% of youth without college experience felt that Romney’s policies would favor the poor, compared to 0% of youth with college experience.
  • Data from a mid-October CIRCLE poll also show that all young people (not just young voters) with college experience were slightly more likely to have been contacted by a campaign than youth without college experience.
  • Overall, young people, regardless of educational experience, felt that the economy was the most important issue facing the country. Youth without college experience viewed the economy more positively than youth with college experience, despite feeling that their personal economic situation is worse today compared to four years ago (29% of youth without college experience, compared to 20% of college-educated youth).