Election Week 2020: Young People Increase Turnout, Lead Biden to Victory
Election Day served as the culmination of an unprecedented election cycle shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, a nationwide movement for racial justice, and the boundless energy of young people who made their voices heard in the streets and at the ballot box. Our research reveals that young voters increased their turnout in 2020; they made the difference in key battleground states; and the participation and overwhelming support for President-elect Joe Biden from youth of color was one of the defining elements of the election.
Explore our comprehensive data and analysis on youth voting in 2020:
Updated November 18
According to CIRCLE’s exclusive estimates, youth turnout was much higher in the 2020 election than in 2016.
Our calculations, based on votes counted as of November 18, suggest that 52%-55% of voting-eligible young people, ages 18-29, cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election. Using the same methodology and data from a week after the election in 2016, we had previously estimated that youth voter turnout in 2016 was 42-44%.
In addition, we are projecting that once all votes are counted, youth turnout may rise to 53%-56%. Our 2016 projection based on the same data was that youth voter turnout that year would be 45%-48%. It’s notable that even the early youth turnout estimate for 2020 is higher than the projected estimate from 2016.
CIRCLE’s exclusive early turnout estimates are based on tallies of votes cast, and projected turnout uses vote totals from the U.S. Election Project (including projected totals in 2020). All estimates are based on the youth share of the vote from the National Election Pool exit polls by Edison Research. We are publishing a range for each estimate in order to account for the margin of error in the youth share of voters.
Youth Share: What Percentage of Ballots Were Cast by Youth?
We estimate that the youth share of the vote in this election is 17%. That’s based on data from the National Election pool national exit poll conducted by Edison Research. By comparison, the youth share of the vote in 2016 from the same source was 16%. It’s worth noting that the youth share of the vote is often adjusted in in the days after the election, as more respondents are added and the weighting is refined. We’re tracking the data closely and will update the youth vote share as needed.
The share of all votes cast by young people depends, not just on the participation of young voters, but of the entire electorate (as such, it’s different than youth voter turnout). In what appears to be an election with historically high overall turnout for the entire electorate, the fact that the youth share in 2020 appears to be comparable to or higher than the youth share in recent elections may suggest that young people participated at a high rate, 'kept up' with older voters, and had a major influence on the electorate.
Updated November 18
we’ve updated our detailed, state-by-state look at how young people (ages 18-29) voted in each state and the youth share of the vote—meaning, the percentage of all ballots in each state that were cast by youth.
Young voters preferred Joe Biden to Donald Trump in 32 of the 39 states for which we have data so far, in most cases by strong, double-digit margins. President Trump won the youth vote in seven states, and in each case by less than 10 percentage points.
Updated November 7
At a time of historic uncertainty, when the nation confronts a pandemic and economic hardship, young people turned out in large numbers across the country and were instrumental in the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and the first female Vice President-elect.
Four days after Election Day, the race has finally been called in favor of Biden by major news outlets. But the impact of young voters on the election has been clear for weeks. Our data revealed that more than 10 million youth cast early and absentee ballots. Young voters turned out at a higher rate than in recent elections: our analysis suggests that, based on votes counted as of midday November 7, an estimated 49%-52% of young people participated in the election—and when all votes are counted (using this method and data available at this point) we project that youth voter turnout may be as high as 53-56%. Regardless of estimate methodology, our analysis shows that youth voter turnout is up compared to 2016.
Young voters, who nationwide preferred Biden by a 25-point margin (61% to 36%), were especially critical in the key battleground states that decided the presidential race:
- In Michigan, 62% of youth supported Biden, compared to 35% for Trump. That’s given Biden an edge of an estimated 194,000 youth votes, higher than the approximately 148,000-vote margin of victory in the state.
- In Georgia, where Biden and Trump are neck-and-neck and the race may go to a recount, Joe Biden received an estimated 188,000 more votes from youth than Trump did.
- In Arizona, which several news outlets have called for Biden (who has a 20,000-vote lead with 97% of votes counted), the now President-elect had a net gain of more than 126,000 estimated votes from young people, who preferred Biden by 24 points.
- In Pennsylvania, Biden leads by just under 35,000 votes as of Saturday morning, when the state—and the presidential race—were called in his favor. Biden got an estimated 154,000 more youth votes than Trump did in the state.
Youth of Color Key to Biden’s Win
While young voters overall were vital to Joe Biden’s electoral victory, young people of color played an especially critical role. While white youth voted for Biden by a slim margin (51% to 45%), youth of color gave him overwhelming support, ranging from 73% among Latino youth to 87% among Black youth. In key states: 90% of Black youth supported Biden in Georgia, 85% of young voters of color backed Biden in Pennsylvania (33 points higher than white youth), and 77% of young voters of color in Michigan (19 points higher than white youth). In fact, in states like Georgia and Arizona, Black and Latino youth may have single-handedly made Biden competitive.
Updated November 18
Based on our analysis of AP VoteCast data from The Associated Press, 61% of youth (ages 18-29) voted for Joe Biden, and 36% voted for President Trump. While not exactly comparable, because of separate sources and methodology in each year, that’s higher than the level of youth support Secretary Clinton received from young voters in 2016.
As has been the case in recent elections, young people chose differently than older voters. Voters ages 30-44 favored Biden by 11 points, and voters over 45 split their support fairly evenly between both candidates but favored Trump by 3 percentage points.
There were also major differences by race/ethnicity. Young White voters preferred Biden by 6 points (51% vs. 45%). Black, Asian, and Latino voters, respectively, supported Biden by overwhelming margins of 77, 68, and 49 percentage points. And, within those differences by race/ethnicity, there are differences by gender. For example, young White men supported President Trump by 6 points (51% vs 45%), while young white women supported Biden over Trump by 13 points: 55% to 42%.
More about Young Voters in 2020
The 2020 election took place during a global pandemic that required voters—including newly eligible voters like many young people—to navigate changing election processes and a unique campaign season. One way young people (ages 18-29) approached this electoral landscape was by voting early in massive numbers: our analysis found that more than 10 million youth cast ballots, either in person or by mail, before Election Day. At the same time, our pre-election research found that many young people lacked information about voting by mail, and our analysis of data from recent presidential elections highlighted that, among all age groups, young voters were the most likely to decide who to vote for later in the election cycle.
Most Youth Voted Early/Absentee, But Some Differences by Candidate Support & Race
A new CIRCLE analysis of AP VoteCast by The Associated Press allows us to paint a fuller picture of how and when youth voted in 2020 and when they decided who to vote for, both in comparison to older voters and to their same-age peers of a different race/ethnicity. We find that 70% of young people reported voting early/absentee and 30% reported voting on Election Day. Youth were more likely to cast a ballot early in person or by absentee ballot than voters ages 30-44 (65% early) and about the same as voters ages 45-64. Voters aged 65+ voted early or absentee at the highest rate (79%), perhaps due to concerns about their higher vulnerability to COVID-19.
As with older voters, among youth there was a substantial difference in method of casting a ballot by vote choice: 78% of young people who voted for President-elect Biden did so early/absentee, compared to 57% of those who chose President Trump. Because most of Trump’s youth support came from young white voters, that also contributed to differences by race/ethnicity: 66% of white youth voted early/absentee, compared to 79% of young Latinos and 91% of young Asian voters. We previously highlighted how Asian youth, who tend to be concentrated in states with a strong history of main-in voting, were highly likely to be more familiar with the process.
But vote choice does not explain all the differences by race: young Black voters were the most likely to support Joe Biden but 30% voted on Election Day and 70% early/absentee—the second-lowest rate among the four racial/ethnic groups for which data is available. In a previous CIRCLE analysis, we found that, in 2016, Black youth had less experience with and information about mail-in voting, and that states with higher proportions of Black youth tended to have more restrictive vote-by-mail policies during the 2016 election.
Throughout the election cycle we underscored the importance of access to information about processes like vote by mail that may have been new or unfamiliar to young voters, and the challenges that would pose for groups like youth of color, youth who do not have any college experience, and others that have been traditionally marginalized in civic life. This new analysis of 2020 voters finds that, indeed, young people without any college experience voted early/absentee at a slightly lower rate (66%) than their peers with higher educational attainment. Among young white voters, 61% of those without college experience voted early/absentee, compared to 66% of youth with some college experience (no degree) and 73% of college graduates.
Youth Voted Early but Decided Later
While a majority of young people voted early/absentee in 2020, young voters (ages 18-29) were the age group most likely to decide whom to vote for during the election season as opposed to having their mind made up from the start. According to CIRCLE analysis of the survey data, three-quarters of all voters (76%) said that they had their mind made up all along; that number was lower for young voters, and especially for youth of color (63%). The youngest group of eligible voters (ages 18-24) was also more likely to decide during the campaign, as were youth aged 18-29 who didn’t vote in 2018, which suggests both a need and an opportunity for campaigns to reach out to newly eligible and previously disengaged young voters who may have not made up their mind.
Another notable difference was between young supporters of Biden and Trump: 71% of youth who supported Biden said they had known all along who they would vote for, compared to 65% of youth who supported Trump. In our pre-election poll, we found that even some young people who intended to support President Trump had an unfavorable view of him, which may partially explain that they were still making up their mind throughout the campaign. There were also some differences by race/ethnicity and education—which, as highlighted above, may dovetail with differences by vote choice. Young white voters with some college experience (but no bachelor’s degree) were the most likely, among all subgroups by race/ethnicity and education, to say that they decided whom to vote for during the course of the campaign: 33% reported that’s when they made their choice. And, among both white youth and youth of color, young people with a postgraduate degree were the most likely to say that they knew whom they would vote for all along.
Interestingly, there did not seem to be a major relationship between when young people decided whom to vote for and whether they cast their ballot early on or Election Day. As our recent analyses have highlighted, this suggests that young people’s likelihood to vote is a matter of information about and access to early voting methods more than a matter of being undecided until Election Day.
Across the nation, young people made their voices heard in the 2020 elections: our current estimate of youth turnout suggests that 52%-55% of young people voted, which could turn out to be the highest rate since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971. Nationally, they voted decisively for President-elect Biden: 61% to 36%, but young people’s vote choice differed by state and within states.
To get a better understanding of how young people made a difference in the election, earlier this month we examined the support earned by President Trump and President-elect Joe Biden at the county level in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia. Using the same method, we are now expanding our analysis to four other states—Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—to investigate how each candidate performed in these Midwestern battlegrounds in counties with high proportions of young people. Data on youth vote choice at the county level is not available.
In these four Midwest states, we divided counties into three groups of about equal size based on Census data on the percentage of young people (ages 18-29) among each county’s voting-eligible population, which ranges anywhere from 2% to 60% and averages 19%. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, Biden benefited from statistically significant, double-digit margins in high-youth counties relative to the low-youth and medium-youth counties, which helped propel him to victory in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In Michigan, for instance, Biden got, on average, 42% of all votes cast in counties with a high proportion of youth, whereas in counties with a low proportion of youth he averaged just 28%. Even in Wisconsin, the only state in which Biden’s performance in high-youth counties was not statistically significantly greater than in low-youth counties, Biden still earned a vote share 6 percentage points higher. Conversely, Trump performed best in the counties with few youth in each of the four states.
When we analyze counties based on the percentage of youth of color (using the same method of categorizing counties as having a high/medium/low proportion), we find even larger differences between high and low youth of color counties in all four states. For example, in Pennsylvania, Biden’s vote share in counties with a high proportion of youth of color is twice as high as counties with a low proportion. In Ohio, the only one of these four states that Biden did not win, the gap was even wider: Biden won 59% of the vote on average in high-youth of color counties, while he managed less than a quarter of the average votes cast in low youth counties.
When we grouped categories by the percentages of just Black or Latino youth, a similar story emerged, with Biden doing particularly well in counties in Pennsylvania with high proportions of Black youth relative to counties with few Black youth.
It is important to note this method of aggregating county-level candidate support data will not reflect the overall support for Biden because he won relatively few counties across all three states, but the counties he won had larger populations. Additionally, urban areas/counties tend to have a higher proportion of young people, and urban areas tend to support Democratic candidates, so it is likely that the presence of youth is just one of many contributors to county-level differences in candidate support.
Biden’s narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were crucial on his path to 270 electoral votes, and CIRCLE’s analysis has shown that young people in these swing states cast many more votes than his margins of victory. But as this analysis highlights, youth of color—both in these particular states and nationwide—backed Biden by wider margins than white youth, further indicating how young people of color spurred Biden’s candidacy in different parts of the country.
In our analysis of young voters, we often focus on college experience because higher education can expose young people to a range of important learning opportunities, networks, and pathways into civic and political experiences. But access to higher education can be inequitable, thereby both reflecting and reinforcing other civic inequities among youth.
Since the 2016 election, many journalists and political observers have focused on sometimes substantial differences in vote choice by educational attainment. In 2020, the vote choice of young voters (ages 18-29) varied by educational attainment and race/ethnicity: the only subgroup of youth in which a majority indicated they voted for President Trump were young white voters without college experience: 57% supported the President to 41% for President-elect Biden. By contrast, a majority of both Black youth (88%) and Latino youth (73%) without college experience voted for Biden. White youth with a college degree also preferred Biden, 63% to 34%, while Black (87%) and Latino (77%) college graduates also supported Biden by even higher margins.
Previous CIRCLE research has also found that there are disparities by race/ethnicity and educational attainment regarding access to information about vote by mail, with youth of color and youth with no college experience less likely to say they know where to access such information. In 2016, for example, youth of color with no college experience were less likely to vote by mail than their peers with at least some college experience.
That seems to have changed for certain groups in 2020—perhaps due to the tremendous emphasis on expanding and promoting mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analysis reveals that 31% of young white voters with no college experience reported voting by mail, compared to 37% of young Latino voters with no college experience and 27% of young Black voters with no college experience. These differences emphasize the diversity of experiences among youth populations, including youth of color. However, regardless of education level, Black youth voters trail their peers in rate of usage of mail voting options.
Trust in elections did not vary heavily between different groups by educational attainment and race/ethnicity—though there was more variation within groups; e.g., it varied among Latinos with different levels of educational attainment. Overall, more than half of young people in every educational attainment subgroup said they were “very” or “somewhat” confident that votes would be counted accurately. That said, as we highlighted previously, many young people had at least some doubts about the accuracy of election results, and their confidence did not increase for those with higher educational attainment. Only 21% of young White voters without college experience were “very confident” in an accurate count, while 15% of White voters with some college experience and 20% of White college graduates expressed the same level of confidence.
The only groups with more than 3 in 10 members reporting that they were “very confident” that votes will be counted accurately were young Black voters without college experience and Black and Latino voters with postgraduate college experience. That trust in elections did not steadily rise with increases in educational attainment is noteworthy, and may be an indication of a broader need to restore the faith of young Americans in electoral institutions.
Certain issue concerns held by young voters differed at the intersection of race/ethnicity and college experience. In a pre-election poll conducted by CIRCLE in May, climate change, racism, and the accessibility and affordability of health care were three top issues identified by young people as influencing their vote in the 2020 Presidential election. We’re now able to look at how much different groups of young people who cast a ballot in 2020 prioritized these issues in deciding who to vote for. When conducting analysis on youth perceptions of the seriousness of racism as a problem in the U.S. and the percentages of young people who said that health care is the most important issue facing the nation, we did not find major differences across young voters with or without college experience (though differences between white youth and youth of color remain).
Across some levels of educational experience, youth of color expressed greater levels of concern about the effects of climate change than their white peers. Four out of five young Black voters without college experience (80%) and young Latino voters without college experience (82%) reported that they were “somewhat” or “very” concerned about the effects of climate change, compared to 64% of young white voters without college experience who said the same. It is likely that at least some of these differences can be attributed to partisanship, since young Trump supporters were less likely to be highly concerned about climate change than young Biden supporters, and white youth without college experience were the most likely to be Trump supporters.
However, a higher percentage of young white voters aged 18-29 with at least some college experience reported being concerned about the effects of climate change. More than three out of four (77%) of young white voters with some college experience/an associate’s degree were somewhat or very concerned about the effects of climate change, a 13 percentage-point increase over young white voters without college experience.
November 17 | 4:30 p.m. ET
Across the country, young voters were pivotal in local, state, and national elections in 2020, turning out to the polls and sending mail-in ballots in record numbers. Black youth in particular were a crucial voting bloc, as their support for Joe Biden helped the President-elect carry key swing states. In Georgia, for instance, young Black voters helped Biden win a state that had not voted Democratic in almost 30 years: 90% of Black youth in Georgia voted for Biden (compared to 8% for President Trump), and Biden won Georgia counties with a high proportion of Black youth by an average of 26 percentage points more than across the state as a whole.
In this CIRCLE analysis of AP VoteCast data from the Associated Press, we dive deeper into voting patterns and preferences of Black youth. One major highlight: the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against police violence have shaped how young Black voters view issues and decide on candidates for whom to vote.
Young Black Voters, Especially Young Black Women, Strongly Supported Biden
While young people overall preferred Biden by an almost 2-to-1 margin, the support for Biden among Black youth was even more staggering: almost 9 in 10 (87%) of young Black voters nationally cast a ballot for Biden while just 1 in 10 (10%) voted for Trump. This was the highest support for Biden among young people of all racial/ethnic groups, slightly above Asian youth (83%) and Latino youth (73%), and 36 points higher than White youth (51%). Notably, there were differences between young Black men and young Black women in the electorate: young Black women voted for Biden at a slightly higher rate than young Black men (90% to 84%) and were also more likely to say the country was on the wrong track (81% to 68%).
On several policy issues, a larger proportion of young Black women took more progressive positions than young Black men: for instance, 67% of young Black women said that police were “too tough” on crime, compared to 51% of young Black men, and 73% of young Black women said that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 58% of young Black men. As other CIRCLE analyses have shown, young women of color have played an indispensable role leading much of the social activism and issue-based advocacy work that propelled young voters to the polls.
Young Black Voters View COVID-19, Police Violence As Critical Issues
In our pre-election poll, we highlighted how Black youth in particular were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to the pandemic, and these trends appear to be borne out among young people who cast ballots as well. Over one-third (34%) of young Black voters knew someone who had died from COVID-19; this was the highest proportion for any racial/ethnic group of youth for which there was data, and more than twice the proportion of white Youth (15%). This figure aligns with what some reporting has called the “stunningly unequal” death toll from COVID-19 impacting Black Americans. Additionally, among all Black youth, young Black women were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Young Black women were 10 percentage points more likely than young Black men (80% to 70%) to say they have been personally affected by COVID-19 due to having events canceled, knowing someone who had died, or losing a job. They were also more likely than young Black men to strongly or somewhat support a national mask mandate (84% to 71%) and to say that COVID-19 was the “single most important factor” in determining their vote (55% to 44%).
Moreover, the pandemic was a key mobilizing issue for many Black youth: one in three (34%) said that COVID-19 was the top issue facing the country, and half of all young Black voters said that the pandemic was the “single most important factor” in deciding their vote—about the same as Latino youth (48%) and Asian youth (51%), but 19 percentage points higher than young white voters. As reflected in their vote choice, Black youth strongly disagreed with how President Trump was responding to COVID-19: just 16% of Black youth strongly or somewhat approved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, and even fewer (11%) believed that Trump would manage the COVID-19 pandemic better than Biden.
Along with COVID-19, Black youth also viewed racism and police violence as other salient issues in deciding for whom to vote. Black youth were three times as likely as white youth and over twice as likely as all youth to believe that racism was the top issue facing the country. Forty-five percent of Black youth—including 52% of young Black women—said that the “protests over police violence” were the “single most important factor” determining their vote, and 92% of Black youth believe that racism is a very or somewhat serious problem in the United States.
November 16 | 4:30 p.m. ET
The Latino electorate has been a frequent topic of reporting this year, especially the fact that President Trump attracted a slightly higher share of Latino voters than he did in 2016. Much of that conversation has focused on Florida—which Trump won narrowly in 2020—a pivotal swing state with a large proportion of Latinos and its influential bloc of Cuban-American voters who tend to favor the Republican Party. But the attention on this community, and on Latinos in Florida, can overshadow the crucial point that Latinos are not a monolithic group, and that while Latinos of all ages supported former Vice President Biden over Trump by double-digit margins, that ranged from 20 points among older Latinos to 50 points among younger ones.
Our analysis of AP VoteCast data by The Associated Press reveals that, nationally, 63% of Latinos (of all ages) voted for Joe Biden while only 35% voted for Donald Trump. And, across every age group, Latinos supported Biden more than non-Latino voters. But there are differences among Latino voters nationally, including by country of origin/heritage. (While we would have liked to explore these trends in Florida, specifically, the sample sizes for Latino youth subgroups in the state were not large enough to analyze in a meaningful way.)
When analyzing the Latino vote, it’s important to remember that it includes individuals from a wide variety of nations of origin and ancestry. Different groups of Latinos bring to the voting booth different histories, experiences, cultures, and values that may shape their vote choice. The chart below shows how different groups voted by age and country of origin; data is not available for some older groups.
Across the board, the youngest Latinos in each subgroup by country of origin/heritage offered Biden the strongest support—with one exception: only about half (52%) of young Latinos of South American origin/heritage voted for Biden, the lowest of all Latino youth for which we have data and lower than older voters from the same group. While we would need far more disaggregated data to explore why that’s the case, some political observers have speculated that a younger generation of Latinos who hail from countries like Venezuela and Colombia may have been especially receptive to President Trump’s attempt to link Joe Biden and the Democrats to socialist governments in Latin America.
That’s a similar dynamic than has been observed for decades among Cuban-Americans, and in 2020 Cuban-Americans aged 45-64 were the only group to prefer Trump, albeit by a small margin: 52% to 45%. (It’s possible or likely that Cubans ages 65+ also supported Trump, but that data is not available.) Older generations of Cuban-Americans, whose parents (or, among the older ones, they themselves) left Cuba after the country’s communist revolution, have historically leaned Republican and did so again this year.
But the data reveals a generational shift in the vote choice of Cuban-Americans, with the youngest group (ages 18-29) offering Biden overwhelming support, 75% to 23%, that equaled the vote choice of young Latinos of Mexican and Central American origin/heritage. This suggests that, as with other racial/ethnic groups, younger and older voters have different lived experiences within politics that influence their vote choice.
Most of all, this analysis reveals the political diversity—by factors like age and country of origin/heritage—in the so-called “Latino electorate” and the potential pitfalls in considering it a fully monolithic group.
Updated November 18
In what may have been one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history, young people (ages 18-29) came out in potentially historic numbers to support President-elect Joe Biden by a wide margin (61% to 36%). Young people of color in particular supported Biden by high margins, and we’ve previously explored how Black youth in states like Georgia and Latino youth in states like Arizona voted decisively in those races. In this CIRCLE analysis of AP VoteCast data from the Associated Press we examine voting by Asian youth, 83% of whom voted for President-elect Biden (compared to 15% for President Trump) and how the issues they care about shaped their electoral participation.
CIRCLE’s pre-election poll showed early indications of strong engagement from Asian-American youth. And, particularly with Kamala Harris as the first Black and South-Asian woman on a major party ticket, we wanted to look at how Asian youth supported the Biden-Harris ticket. While we understand that Asian-Americans are a diverse community made up of people of many ethnicities and national origins, unfortunately, AP VoteCast data does not allow us to disaggregate and differentiate between Asian-American groups.
While Asian-American voters in general supported Biden, young Asian-Americans supported the President-elect by a 20-point higher margin: 83% among ages 18-29, compared to 63% from ages 45-64 and 65% from ages 65+. Young Asian-American women supported Biden the most (86%), and their vote choice stands out in comparison to Asian-American women ages 65+, 59% of whom voted for Biden. Moreover, only 9% of young Asian-American women supported President Trump, compared to 20% of young Asian-American men.
An overwhelming majority (85%) of young Asian-Americans said they believe that the country was heading in the wrong direction during the 2020 presidential election cycle. More than three-quarters of young Asian-Americans (77%) highly disapprove of President Trump’s performance in office and believe that he does not care for people like them (79%). On the other hand, 80% of young Asians said they believe that President-elect Biden does care about people like them. A considerable number of Asian American youth who voted in 2020 think it’s important for the next president to bring the country together (80%) and to look out for people like them (69%).
The Pandemic Was the Top issue for Young Asian Americans
For young Asian-American voters, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most important issue facing the country. About half (47%) rated the pandemic as the highest priority, followed by healthcare (14%), the economy and jobs (13%), and racism (11%).
Four in five (81%) of young Asian-Americans said they have been impacted by the pandemic in some way, a higher rate than older Asian-American voters. Slightly more than half (52%) said that they or someone in their household lost a job or income because of the pandemic, and a quarter (24%) of Asian-American youth said they have had a close friend or family member die from the coronavirus. Perhaps because young Asian Americans have been so heavily impacted by the pandemic, they strongly disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the crisis: 11% disapprove somewhat and 76% disapprove strongly. Along the same lines, half of Asian-American youth (51%) said the federal government's response to the coronavirus was the single most important factor influencing their vote in the 2020 presidential election, and another 42% said it was an important factor though not the most important.
According to our analysis of the AP VoteCast data, Asian-American youth are also concerned about climate change and racism—something also reflected in CIRCLE’s pre-election poll. Three-quarters of Asian-American youth are very concerned about the effects of climate change (20-points higher than older Asian-American voters) and two-thirds strongly support increasing federal government spending on green and renewable energy. Two-thirds of young Asian-Americans voters (66%) also see racism as a very serious problem in American society, and even more-(73%) said they consider racism in policing to be a very serious issue.
November 11 | 5:30 p.m. ET
Across the nation, many young people took to the streets this summer to protest police violence and racism following the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake, among others. According to CIRCLE’s pre-election poll, many youth of color named racism as one of the top three issues influencing their vote in 2020, and 27% of young people attended marches or demonstrations this year—almost double the percentage who protested in 2018 and over five times the percentage of those who protested in 2016. These were encouraging signs for youth participation in the election, as in 2018 we saw how youth-led social movements helped increase youth turnout by focusing on voter registration.
According to CIRCLE’s analysis of the AP VoteCast survey from The Associated Press, young people were the most likely among all age groups to say that racism was a serious problem in the United States—and for some, this issue motivated their vote choice. In a previous analysis, we discussed how young people were the most likely age group to cite racism as the most important issue facing the country. On a similar note, over four in five youth (83%) nationwide said that racism in the United States was a very serious or somewhat serious issue, and 79% of youth said racism in the police force was somewhat or very serious as well. Of all age groups, young people were the most likely to believe that racism in America and in the police force were serious issues. In addition, three-fourths of all young people believed that the criminal justice system in America needs an overhaul or major changes.
However, key differences emerged among young people by race/ethnicity. While a large majority of young white people (79%) believed that racism in the United States was somewhat or very serious, Black youth (92%), Latino youth (88%) and Asian youth (95%) were even more likely to say so. A similar pattern emerged on the issue of racism within the police force: three-quarters of white youth said they consider it a serious problem, compared to 89% of Black youth, 86% of Latino youth, and 91% of Asian youth. Compared to all other racial/ethnic groups, Black youth were most likely to name protests over police violence as the single most important factor determining their vote (45%), compared to 28% of Latino youth, 21% of Asian youth, and 18% of white youth.
Among voters of each presidential candidate, young people were also the most likely of all age groups to believe that the issues of racism in policing and racism in the United States was “very serious.” However, there were also differences on these questions depending upon presidential preference. Ninety-five percent of young people who voted for President-elect Biden said that racism in policing is a “somewhat” or “very serious” issue, while about half (52%) of young Trump supporters also said that it was a serious issue—the same rate as Trump voters ages 30-44 years old and 10 percentage points higher than Trump voters over 45. Moreover, compared to 96% of Biden supporters who said racism in the United States was a somewhat or very serious issue, three-fifths of young Trump supporters said it was a serious issue as well. A slim majority of Trump-supporting youth (53%) also believed that the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul or major changes.
November 11 | 11:15 a.m.
While President-elect Joe Biden won the youth vote by a 25-point margin, more than a third of young voters (36%) supported President Trump. Young people who voted for President Trump said the economy is the biggest issue facing the country, while those who voted for Biden were more likely to say it was the coronavirus pandemic. What else motivated young Trump supporters? How were they similar to—and how did they differ from—the older voters (ages 45+) who supported Trump? A CIRCLE analysis of data from the AP VoteCast by the Associated Press helps answer some of those questions.
While a majority (61%) of young Trump voters self-identified as conservative, youth who voted for Trump were more likely to self-identify as moderate (31%) or liberal (8%) than older Trump voters, only 23% and 3% of whom, respectively, said they were moderate or liberal. This is reflected in young Trump voters’ perspectives on different issues, which in some cases are more progressive than those of older supporters of the President.
For example, our analysis finds that younger Trump voters were more likely than older Trump voters to say that racism is a somewhat or very serious issue in the United States: 60% vs. 52%. We also find that youth who supported Trump are more critical of policing: they were more likely to say that police are “too tough” on crime (as opposed to “not tough enough”), and more than half (52%) identified racism in policing as a very serious or somewhat serious issue, compared to 42% of Trump voters over age 45 who said the same. (Trump supporters ages 30-44 had similar views to Trump voters ages 18-29 on these topics.) That said, 83% of young Trump voters also believe that the President would handle issues of policing and criminal justice better than Biden.
We also found that youth who supported Trump were more worried about climate change than older Trump voters. Over half (52%) of young Trump supporters said that they were somewhat or very or concerned about climate change (compared to 40% of Trump voters ages 45+), and over half of Trump supporting youth (56%) strongly or somewhat favored investing in green energy—compared to 38% of Trump voters aged 45+. This stronger support for green energy policy is one of the major differences that emerged between younger and older Trump voters.
However, on other issues, younger Trump voters held views that are just as conservative as those of older Trump voters. For example, 68% of young Trump voters and 65% of older Trump voters said they believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Additionally, majorities of young people who voted for Trump said that the Trump administration has made the U.S. safer when it comes to crime (61%), cyberattacks (52%), and terrorism (79%). More than four in five of them (84%) believe that the Trump administration has “changed the way Washington works” for the better. On all of those issues, their answers are similar to those of Trump voters aged 45+.
The coronavirus pandemic profoundly changed this election and was a factor in the vote choice of many youth, including 73% of young Trump supporters who said the President would be better than Biden at handling this issue. Most young Trump voters thought that the pandemic was at least partially under control (only 12% said it was “not at all” under control); at the same time, almost half (47%) of young Trump voters said they either strongly or somewhat support a “mask mandate.” As we explored in an earlier analysis, more young people have suffered negative effects of the pandemic like losing a job/income than older voters, which may explain their relative support for a policy like a mask mandate which is seen by some in partisan terms. That said, Trump voters ages 45+ were even more likely to support a mask mandate (62%), which may owe to the fact that older individuals are at higher risk from the coronavirus.
November 10 | 2:00 p.m. ET
Foreign interference in the 2016 elections, and the increased use of vote by mail in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought to the foreground questions about American voters’ trust in the democratic process. It is especially important for young people, many of whom are participating in the electoral process for the first time, to believe in the integrity and security of their vote. In this election, it was especially crucial for youth to trust mail-in voting, which a majority of young people did not have experience with even if they had voted before. In our pre-election poll fielded this summer, only 24% of youth reported having experience voting by mail in a previous election.
According to a CIRCLE analysis of AP VoteCast data from the Associated Press, those questions were on voters’—including young voters’—minds on Election Day. While less than 10 percent of youth said they were “not at all confident” that votes would be counted accurately in 2020, only about one in five youth (ages 18-29) said they were “very confident”. That means a sizable majority of young voters had at least some doubts about the electoral process: 73% of young white voters and 68% of young voters of color were either “not too confident” or just “somewhat confident” that votes would be counted accurately this year.
Young voters’ doubts about the process did not extend to all aspects of electoral participation in the same way. For example, more than three out of four young people said they were somewhat or very confident that eligible voters would be allowed to cast a ballot this year. However, there were differences by vote choice: only 10% of voters supporting President Donald Trump were not confident (i.e. “not at all confident” or “not too confident”) that all eligible voters would be allowed to cast a ballot, while 30% of President-Elect Biden supporters and 27% of young voters who chose another candidate said they weren’t confident that all eligible voters would be able to do so. That may reflect a higher concern among Democratic-leaning voters about voter suppression, and a higher distrust of the political system by voters who eschewed supporting one of the two major candidates.
On the flip side, young voters were similarly confident that ineligible voters would not be able to vote—meaning, confident that there would not be widespread voter fraud. About 70% of youth said they were somewhat or very confident such fraud would be prevented. Youth of color were most likely to say this wasn’t a concern: 40% were ‘very’ confident there wouldn’t be such fraud, compared to 37% of white youth and 33% of voters overall. Accusations of ineligible people voting are often centered on undocumented immigrants casting ballots; non-white youth may understand best that this is an exceedingly rare phenomenon.
However, young people’s confidence in the security of U.S. election administration does not appear to extend beyond the nation’s borders. Young voters, and especially young voters of color, were worried about foreign interference in U.S. elections. In 2020, 44% of non-white young people reported that they were very concerned that interference by foreign governments might affect the outcome of the election, compared to just 29% of white youth.
The coronavirus pandemic loomed large over the 2020 election cycle, delaying primaries, affecting outreach strategies, changing some voting methods, and became a major issue for voters of all ages. According to our pre-election poll, by early summer, two-thirds of young people reported feeling moderately or significantly economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people, especially young women, were also stepping up for their communities in many ways, including in ways connected to the election: many expressed interest in becoming poll workers if given the opportunity. In that same poll, 79% of young people reported that the pandemic has helped them realize that political leaders’ decisions affect their everyday lives. And, according to our analysis of AP VoteCast data from the Associated Press, more than two-fifths of young people who voted for President-elect Joe Biden and more than a fifth who voted for President Trump said the pandemic was the most important issue facing the country.
According to CIRCLE analysis of the AP VoteCast survey, young people—and youth of color most of all—were more likely than older voters to say they had experienced some of the negative effects of the pandemic. . Three out of five young people said they missed a major event, such as a wedding or funeral, because of COVID-19. Over half (52%) of 18- to 29-year-olds reported that they or someone in their household lost a job or saw a reduction in hours/pay due to the virus, compared to 38% of all respondents. And about one out of five young people have had a friend or family member pass away from the virus. That number is 10 percentage points higher among youth of color, which reflects the disproportionately higher disease burden and death rates from COVID-19 in non-white communities.
Youth favored Biden over Trump across the board (61% to 36%), but those who have experienced negative consequences due to the pandemic were more likely to support Biden than those who didn’t. Young people who lost a job or income favored Biden by a 33-point margin (64% to 33%), while those whose employment has not been impacted favored Biden by 19 points (58% to 38%). Support for Biden was even higher among the share of young voters who know someone who has died of COVID-19. While these trends hold among all young people, the differences are primarily among white youth; young people of color’s support for Biden was consistently high and does not appear to be related to their experiences with the pandemic.
Updated November 6 | 11:30 a.m. ET
With the country still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, concern over the coronavirus was the most important issue facing the country among all voters in 2020, according to CIRCLE analysis of the AP VoteCast by the Associated Press. However, young people were less likely to say that coronavirus is the most important issue compared to all voters (34% among young voters and 41% overall), as young people were more likely than voters of all age groups to cite issues such as climate change and racism . However, that does not mean youth are unconcerned about COVID-19:, about half of voters ages 18-29 (49%) say that the pandemic is not at all under control.
As we saw in CIRCLE’s pre-election youth survey, issue priorities among youth differ by race/ethnicity. Among all voters surveyed, when asked about the biggest issue influencing their vote, the COVID-19 pandemic topped the list, followed by the economy. For young voters, COVID-19 was also the top issue, but young voters of color rated protests about police violence as more important than the economy—an unsurprising contrast to the issue priorities of young white voters.
When asked about the top issue facing the country, the pandemic was the top issue for all young voters. However, Black youth cited racism as the top issue facing the country at about the same rate (34% pandemic, 35% racism). On the other hand, white youth were more likely than youth of color to cite the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the country (24%), young Asian voters were more likely to cite the pandemic (48%).
Young people’s issue priorities were different among supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden and of President Trump. For young Biden voters, the coronavirus pandemic was the top issue facing the country (42%), followed by racism (21%) and climate change (12%). Among young voters who supported Trump, the top issues were the economy and jobs (41%), the coronavirus pandemic (21%), and then abortion (9%).
Our analysis also takes a deeper look at how youth feel about several key issues:
- Environment/climate change: Our research has frequently found that the environment is a top issue for youth, and young voters in 2020 were more likely than older voters to say it was their biggest concern. Youth are also more likely to support policies that will curb climate change and foster conservation. Over half (52%) of young people said they are “very concerned” about climate change, and 78% say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned. Youth of color are even more concerned (84% somewhat or very), and 48% of youth say they are strongly in favor of green energy policies, which grows to 75% of youth who strongly or somewhat favor them.
- Accessible/affordable health care: The coronavirus pandemic has had a staggering impact on youth: more than half of young voters (52%) said they have lost a job or income because of COVID-19. As the pandemic continues to rage and the economic fallout continues, young people are demonstrating strong support for the Affordable Care Act. Approximately one in five youth (18%) want to keep the ACA in place as is, while an additional 42% would like to see the policy expanded.
- Immigration: Half of young voters (49%) “strongly oppose” building a wall at the border to limit immigration, higher than the 33% of voters of all ages who strongly oppose building the wall. About one in five youth (19%) strongly support building the wall.
- Gun control: While 53% of all voters said that gun control policies should be more strict, young people were more likely to say so: 57% of youth and 71% of youth of color feel that gun control laws should be more restrictive.
Updated on November 6 | 9:00 a.m. ET
As the nation waits for the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election to be called, Georgia has emerged as a critical state in which former Vice President Joe Biden could score a surprising victory that may decide the race. Our in-depth analysis finds that Georgia’s young voters have been pivotal to Biden’s performance in the state, and young Black voters have been particularly influential. We have conducted an estimated vote margin analysis that examines how strong youth voter participation and preference for the Democratic candidate have influenced the outcome of the race this week.
According to the National Election Pool exit poll, 20% of Georgia votes were cast by young voters (ages 18-29), and according to AP VoteCast by the Associated Press, that under-30 electorate gave Vice President Biden an 19-point edge over President Trump (58% vs. 39%), making youth the age group that supported Biden the most. Young Black voters, which number almost 500,000 in Georgia, backed Biden by an even stronger margin. Young Black voters in the state chose Biden over Trump, 90% to 8%, while young White votes in Georgia backed President Trump, 62% to 34%.
There was also a noticeable difference in presidential candidate support between youth ages 18-24 and their slightly older peers (ages 25-29): 60% of the younger cohort voted for Biden, compared to 54% of those ages 25-29. In fact, the vote choice of young voters ages 25-29 resembles that of the 30-44 age group, in which 53% voted for Biden, which suggests that it’s the youngest (18-24) voters in the Georgia electorate giving Biden a chance in the state.
According to our analysis, the 18- to-29-year-old electorate in Georgia gave Biden a net gain of 187,000 votes (meaning, nearly 190,000 *more* votes than Trump got from youth), dwarfing the vote margin of just over 1,000 votes as of early Friday morning. Furthermore, we estimate that even a relatively small shift in youth vote choice would have put Biden behind and, perhaps, put the state out of reach. For example, if Georgia voters under 30 had voted like those ages 30-44 (just 3 percentage points less for Biden), Trump’s would now be leading in the state by about 11,000 votes.
Alternatively, if young voters had come out in smaller numbers, Biden’s lead and chance to win the state would have also dwindled. We estimate that youth made up 20% of the Georgia electorate; if they had made up 17% (the national average), President Trump may have won the state.
The data is clear: young voters in Georgia, particularly youth of color (who make up more than half of the voting-eligible youth population in the state) and voters under the age of 25 seem to have made this once-solid-red state into a cliffhanger swing state in the 2020 presidential election.
Updated November 18
While votes are still being counted in most states across the country, the 2020 presidential election has come down to a handful of key states, some of which are yet to be called. As they have in previous elections, the youth vote (ages 18-29) has the potential to shape the outcome in these states and to decide the presidency of the United States. According to data from the National Election Poll exit polls and to AP VoteCast data from the Associated Press, here’s where the youth vote stands in key states as of November 18:
- Pennsylvania: Youth made up 13% of the vote and supported Biden by +20
- Michigan: Youth made up 13% of the vote and supported Biden by +27
- North Carolina: Youth made up 15% of the vote and supported Biden by +16
- Georgia: Youth made up 20% of the vote and supported Biden by +19
- Wisconsin: Youth made up 14% of the vote and supported Biden by +19
- Arizona: Youth made up 16% of the vote and supported Biden by +22
President-elect Joe Biden won all of the states above except for North Carolina, mostly by narrow margins that underscore how much the youth vote was likely decisive in each race. Especially notable is the youth share of the vote in Georgia—the highest of any state for which we have data—which nearly matches the percentage of eligible young voters in the electorate, which suggests high youth turnout.
Major Impact by Youth of Color
As in recent elections, there are substantial differences in youth vote choice by race/ ethnicity in key battleground states (for which data is available): young people of color have been substantially more likely to support Joe Biden, while white youth have been more supportive of President Trump. In Arizona, where Biden won a close race, young Latinos were 15 percentage points more likely to support Biden than white youth (Latino youth 68% for Biden vs. white youth 53% for Biden). In both North Carolina and Georgia, where votes are still being counted, 90% or more of Black youth voted for Joe Biden, while in both states white youth supported President Trump.
While the state’s electoral votes went to President Trump, young voters of color were also incredibly influential in Texas. Black youth supported Biden over Trump, 93% to 7%. Latino youth supported Biden 72% to 27%. Meanwhile, young white voters in Texas preferred Trump: 51% to 45%.
As states across America finish counting ballots, we are starting to glean a deeper understanding of how young people made an impact in some of the most competitive races in the country. Our initial aggregate turnout estimate (which is likely to increase as more votes are counted) suggests that 47%-49% of young people turned out to vote in 11 key battleground states. That turnout rate may still increase as votes are counted and end up being close to 10 points higher than the 2016 national youth turnout estimate from the days after the election.
To dive deeper into the ways in which young people made a difference, we examined the votes earned by President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden at the county level in four crucial states: Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia. Using a similar method as for our analysis of key states (including Georgia and Texas) in 2018, we investigated how each candidate performed in counties with high proportions of young people—and, specifically, young people of color.
We divided counties nationwide into thirds of about equal size based on Census data on the percentage of young people among the county’s voting-eligible population. In three of the four states, Biden benefited from statistically significant, double-digit gains in high youth counties relative to the low-youth and medium-youth counties, which narrowed his deficit against Trump in Texas, bolstered his lead in Virginia, and may prove decisive in Georgia, which has not yet been called as of Thursday morning. In Virginia, for instance, Biden did 16 percentage points better in counties with a high proportion of youth than in those with a low proportion. The exception to this pattern was in Florida, in which Trump maintained most of his vote share, even in counties with a relatively high proportion of youth.
When we analyzed counties by the percentage of youth of color, using the same method of categorization, we found that the differences between high- and low-youth of color counties within Texas, Georgia, and Virginia were even larger. (Once again, Florida showed only a marginal difference between counties with more and fewer youth of color.) For example, in Georgia, Biden did 26 percentage points better in counties with a high proportion of youth of color than in counties with a low proportion.
When we grouped categories by the percentages of Black and Latino youth, a similar story emerged, with Biden doing particularly well in counties in Georgia with high proportions of Black youth relative to counties with few Black youth. Statistically significant differences emerged in every state but Florida.
It is important to note this method of aggregating county-level data will not reflect the overall support for Biden because he won relatively few counties across all three states, but the counties he won had larger populations. Additionally, young people are more likely to live in urban counties, which tend to support Democratic candidates, so it is likely that the proportion of youth is just one of many contributors to county-level differences in candidate support.
This analysis highlights how youth of color—both in these particular states and nationwide—backed Biden by wider margins than White youth, and this analysis seems to suggest more indications of how young people of color spurred Biden’s candidacy. By contrast, Biden’s inability to garner votes in Florida from counties with larger proportions of youth of color may have hurt his chances in a state where he underperformed expectations and lost by a few points.
Updated November 6 | 4:30 p.m. ET.
Our latest analysis examines young people’s impact on U.S. Senate elections, and we find that youth may have been decisive on some of the closest races in the country: Arizona, Georgia (Perdue vs. Ossoff), and North Carolina. As of Thursday afternoon, Arizona had been won by Democrats, and the other two were yet to be called—with the Georgia race potentially headed to a runoff. All three races placed in the top 10 of our pre-election Youth Electoral Significance ranking of Senate races where youth could shift the results, and it appears that young voters lived up to that potential.
- In North Carolina, still too close to call, young voters made up 15% of the electorate and backed Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, 51% to 44%. That translates to a net gain of 57,000 youth votes for Cunningham in a race where fewer than 100,000 votes currently separate the candidates—and that’s expected to tighten as more votes are counted.
- In Georgia, about 98,000 votes currently separate Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff from Republican incumbent David Perdue. But youth, who made up a staggeringly high 20% of the GA electorate, preferred Ossoff by 17 points (58%-40%). That’s meant about 185,000 extra youth votes for the Democrat, who only needs to keep his rival below 50% to force a run-off.
- In Arizona, Democratic challenger Mark Kelly flipped the Senate seat by defeating incumbent Martha McSally; the margin of victory currently stands at about 100,000 votes. And Kelly got 121,000 more votes than his rival from youth, who were +26 (63% to 37%) for the Democrat.
As with young people’s votes for president, in these races there were also marked differences in youth vote choice by race and ethnicity. In Georgia, 89% of Black youth voted for the Democrat, Jon Ossoff, compared to 36% of white youth. It’s a similar story In North Carolina: 89% of young Black voters backed the Democratic candidate, compared to 39% of young white voters. In Arizona, 68% of young Latinos, compared to 58% of white youth, supported Democratic winner Mark Kelly.
Before Election Day: Background and Early Voting
Authors: All of the work above has been powered by a team of CIRCLE staff and student fellows: Kelly Beadle, Ruby Belle Booth, Alison Cohen, Peter de Guzman, Bennett Fleming Wood, Noorya Hayat, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Sarah Keese, Abby Kiesa, Rey Junco, Kathleen Lanzilla, Kristian Lundberg, Alberto Medina, Lauren Soherr.
For more CIRCLE research from the entire 2020 election cycle, including the primaries, and our exclusive poll of young people, explore our 2020 Election Center.
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