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Five Weeks Away: Youth Voter Registration Up from 2016 but Lagging for Youngest Eligible Voters

In many states, the number of young people (ages 18-24) registered to vote is already higher than in November 2016, but among youth ages 18-19 more states are still far behind.

In August, we published a snapshot of youth voter registration that showed, more than two months before the election, many states had already exceeded their youth (ages 18-24) voter registration numbers from November 2016. At the same time, when we examined the registration among the youngest eligible voters (ages 18-19), we found that many more states were still far behind their levels of voter registration in 2016. Our latest look at voter registration data shows that, five weeks before the election, these trends continue.

There are two important caveats about the data below. First, it does not yet reflect any increases due to National Voter Registration Day, which occurred on September 24 and which is reported to have been particularly effective in registering young people. Second, we only include only states for which we have updated data from recent weeks. Explore our earlier analysis to see the data as it stood in late August; see the table at the end of this analysis to see the change between August and September, where data is available.

Voter Registration among 18- to 24-year-olds Higher than 2016 and 2018

Our September snapshot of youth voter registration data finds:

  • In 21 of 27 states with recently updated data, voter registration for youth ages 18-24 is already higher than in November 2016. 
  • In three other states, including the perennial battleground state of Pennsylvania, it is just 3 percentage points lower. Georgia, which is also projected to be electorally competitive this year, leads the way with 34% higher youth voter registration now than before the last presidential election.

In most states, voter registration among young people ages 18-24 is also higher than in 2018. On the one hand, that’s to be expected, since electoral participation is typically greater in presidential elections than in midterms. That said, in 14 of the states for which we have data from September, voter registration for that age group was higher in 2018 than in 2016, AND is higher now, with five weeks to go before Election Day in 2020. Given the challenges to voter registration and engagement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this represents a remarkable success for organizations and advocates who have been working to engage youth, and is a testament to the interest and energy of many young people who have not let the adverse circumstances of 2020 prevent them from getting ready to vote in November.

A Pattern Continues: Voter Registration Among 18-to 19-Year-Olds Trailing 

The outlook of voter registration among youth ages 18-19 is slightly different, though not surprising given the ways that the youngest eligible voters are too often neglected in electoral outreach. While two more states have youth voter registration levels above 2016 than in our previous snapshot, in more than half (16 of 27) of the states we looked at with updated data, registration among the youngest eligible voters is still below November 2016 levels. In one case, the difference is substantial: South Dakota has 48% fewer registered voters in that age group than they did before the last presidential election.

That said, some of the increases are also more dramatic: in five states it’s already more than 33% higher, including close to 50% higher in Kansas and California, and a remarkable 100% higher (meaning, double) in Idaho. The state has fewer than 10,000 eligible voters in that age group and they had relatively low youth voter registration in the past presidential election. It also implemented online voter registration in late 2017, which may contribute to the exceptional increase in registration among the youngest eligible voters.

As stated above, this analysis includes only states with updated youth voter registration data for September. To see other states, and to see how voter registration has grown between August and September, explore the table below.

The election is fast approaching and, in many states, voter registration deadlines will come and go in the next two weeks. That means it’s crunch-time for many stakeholders who want to ensure that young people can vote this November. As our data shows, in many states there’s still work to be done, and it’s key to aim efforts at the youngest eligible voters.


Authors: Kristian Lundberg, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Abby Kiesa, Alberto Medina