Political Engagement Trends Among Youth of Different Races/Ethnicities
Political campaigns and commentators often think of the “youth” as a monolithic voting bloc. But young people in America are an increasingly diverse group with varied political and ideological views, and different ways of engaging in political and civic life.
Today, we release three new fact sheets with recent data and analysis about the electoral engagement of African American youth, Asian American youth, and Latino youth. The fact sheets explore their voter registration and turnout rates, as well as broader patterns of engagement among young people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Some key findings:
- In the past three election cycles (2008, 2010, 2012) young African Americans turned out to vote at a higher rate than youth of any other racial or ethnic group.
- Latino youth vote and are registered to vote at significantly lower levels than their White and African American peers. They are the most “civically alienated” racial or ethnic group of youth (see clusters in graph below).
Asian American youth are less likely than young people in other racial and ethnic groups to engage in formal electoral politics—they were the least likely to be registered to vote in 2012—but are active through political discussion and through donating to charitable causes.
Based on these analyses, we make several recommendations for how to better engage youth of different backgrounds. For example:
- Latinos are the most likely to fit into the “talkers” cluster among of youth of different ethnic backgrounds. Engaging youth in conversations about important public issues may serve as an entry point that connects them to civic organizations and activities.
- Use more than one strategy to reach a large number of youth. For example, strategies focused solely on college campuses may miss a large proportion of this demographic group, as 40% of youth do not have college experience, and young African Americans and Latinos are more likely to have no college experience than youth as a whole nationally.
- Asian American youth can be engaged through school activities, as they are the most likely, compared to other racial and ethnic youth groups, to engage in friendship and interest-driven activity online.
- Many African American youth report not voting because of busy or conflicting schedules, so promoting and providing information about early and absentee voting could be key.
Analysis of Each Racial/Ethnic Group
In the past three election cycles (2008, 2010, 2012), young African Americans turned out to vote at a higher rate than youth of any other racial or ethnic group.
That’s one of the primary takeaways from our recently released fact sheet on the voting and political engagement trends of African American youth (ages 18-29), one of three facts sheets on electoral participation by youth of different racial and ethnic groups. The fact sheets include findings about patterns of engagement and recommendations for increased engagement.
Those top turnout rates for African American youth—58.2% and 53.7% in 2008 and 2012; 27.5% in the 2010 midterms— are likely evidence of the “Obama effect,” which drove young Black men and women to the polls at the highest rate in the last 40 years. That effect also drove African American youth to register to vote. Black youth increased their registration rate by almost six percentage points (46.2% to 51.9%) between 2006 and 2010, and their voter registration rate of 62.4% for the 2012 election was the highest of any racial or ethnic group of young people.
We call people who are registered but then do not vote “under-mobilized” (because often no one asked them to vote even though they had registered.) As shown in the figure below, young African Americans are significantly more likely to be under-mobilized in 2010 than their peers of other ethnic backgrounds. That analysis also shows some promising aspects of African American youth’s civic engagement: they’re the second most likely group, after young Whites, to be broadly engaged; and the second least likely group, after young Whites, to be civically alienated.
Additional findings and recommendations include:
- Gender matters: 37% of young Black men consider themselves “conservative,” compared with 18% of young Black women. Campaigns and organizations must understand these differences.
- Nearly one fourth of registered African American youth said they did not vote in 2012 because of busy or conflicting work schedules. It is especially vital to encourage making a plan to vote, promote early voting, mail-in voting, and absentee voting among this group.
- In 2012, more than one fourth of young African Americans said they missed the registration deadline or did not know where to register. The rates are similar across all racial and ethnic groups, and points to the importance of providing all youth with timely, accurate information about voter registration.
The 2008 presidential election marked the highest reported voter turnout among Asian American youth1 since 1992, with a rate of 43%.
This is one take-away from CIRCLE’s recently released fact sheet on the voting and political engagement trends of Asian American youth (ages 18-29), one of three facts sheets on electoral participation by youth of different racial and ethnic groups. The fact sheets include findings about patterns of engagement and recommendations for increased engagement.
Turnout among Asian American youth decreased to 36.2% in the 2012 election—the lowest rate among youth of different ethnic groups. The trend has been similar in midterm elections; in 2010, young Asian Americans turned out at a rate of just 17.6%, tied with the turnout rate of young Latinos for the lowest among all groups.
In 2012, young Asian American voters cast ballots for President Obama at a rate of 73% (CIRCLE analysis of National Asian American Survey data). At the same time, Asian American youth were the least likely to be registered to vote and had the lowest turnout in 2012 compared to their peers of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, and were generally less likely to engage in formal electoral politics. Of Asian American youth overall (i.e. voters and non-voters), 44% reported considering themselves independents in 2012 and 29.7% Democrats (CIRCLE analysis of Pew Asian American Survey data).
Asian American youth are significantly more likely than their peers of other ethnic groups to donate to charitable causes. However, as shown below, nearly one third of young Asian Americans are “civically alienated,” second only to Latino youth. Young Asian Americans are also among the least likely—again, second only to young Hispanics—to be “broadly engaged.” Still, Asian youth are the least likely group to be “under-mobilized” (defined as those who registered but did not vote).
Additional findings and recommendations include:
- In 2012, young Asian Americans were most likely (44%) to consider themselves independents. This suggests ample opportunities for candidates and parties from across the political spectrum to appeal to Asian youth.
- Research suggests that online efforts may prove promising. According to research by Cohen & Kahne,2 Asian American youth were most likely to participate in interest-driven activities online. They also found that interest-driven activities were correlated to engaging in “online participatory politics.”
- In 2008, young Asian Americans without college experience showed the lowest turnout among all racial and ethnic groups, which points to a need for greater outreach to this subset of young people.
- Asian American youth have fallen behind their peers in voter registration. They must be targeted through personalized outreach that takes into account the ways they are already civically engaged, such as charitable donations and interest-driven activities.
 We understand that the general label “Asian Americans” does not fully represent the linguistic, religious, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity within this group. Data with large enough sample sizes to do analysis by age and ethnic sub-group is scarce. However, there are also problems with not representing a group at all in research. Overall, readers should interpret statistics about Asian American youth with caution.
 Cohen, C., J. Kahne, B. Bowyer, E. Middaugh, and J. Rogowski. 2012. Participatory politics: new media and youth political action. (YPPSP Research Report). Retrieved from http://ypp.dmlcentral.net/sites/all/files/publications/YPP_Survey_Report_FULL.pdf
Latino youth saw an increase of 46.6% to 48.9% in their voter registration rates between 2008 and 2012, even as youth of other racial and ethnic backgrounds all experienced declines, but the voting rates of young Hispanics (ages 18-29) still lag behind those of their peers and they remain the most “civically alienated” group.
Those and other findings are described in our recent fact sheet about the patterns in electoral engagement of young Latinos, one of three fact sheets about political participation trends by youth of different racial and ethnic groups.
Young Latinos’ support of President Obama accompanied an increase in voter turnout from 2004 to the last two presidential contests. However, Hispanic youth turnout in 2012 (36.9%) decreased from 2008, and was significantly lower than that of their White (46.1%) and African American (53.7%) peers. In the 2010 midterm elections, young Latinos’ turnout rate of 17.6% equaled that of young Asian Americans as the lowest among all racial and ethnic groups.
When we analyze the patterns of engagement by young people of different backgrounds, Latino youth also rank as the least likely to be “broadly engaged” and most likely to be civically alienated. However, young Hispanics are slightly more likely than other groups to be “talkers”, a pattern of engagement that involves frequent discussion of political issues. Additionally, young Latinos donate to charitable causes at about the same rate as their White and African American peers.
Additional findings and recommendations include:
- Young Latinos were more likely to identify as Liberal Democrats (32%) than their White (19%) and African American counterparts (28%).
- Gender matters: 82% of young Latinas voted for Barack Obama in 2012, while only 66% of young Hispanic
- Efforts to reach young Latinos should leverage their interest in having conversations about important public issues and use it as an entry point to broader engagement.
- Unlike other youth, Latino youth do not consider lack of information about the issues or process their primary barrier to participation. Instead, they feel disempowered, with many saying that their vote would not make a difference. Engagement efforts must understand and work to counter
this understandable cynicism and apathy.