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State-by-State 2020 Youth Voter Turnout: The Midwest

The states with one of the highest (Minnesota) and the lowest (South Dakota) 2020 youth voter turnout are in the Midwest.

This is the third analysis in our series examining the state-by-state turnout of young voters in the 2020 election. See our previous analyses of turnout in the West/Southwest here, and in the South here

Our most recent analysis looks at youth voter turnout in eight states across the Midwest, including key battlegrounds like Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. Our takeaways include:

  • As in other regions, youth voter turnout varied widely in the Midwest, from 32% in South Dakota to 65% in Minnesota—the lowest and highest youth turnout rates, respectively, of any state for which we have released data. 
  • Contested states like Minnesota, Michigan (54%), Ohio (49%), and Iowa (55%) had higher turnout than others in the region which lacked competitive elections for President or U.S. Senate. 
  • This region is experiencing demographic shifts: one in four people under age 30 in the Midwest is a person of color. Nationally, Latino and Asian youth in particular have historically voted at lower rates than white youth, but they played a pivotal role in many states in 2020

Competitive elections for president and for the U.S. Senate may have contributed to high turnout in some Midwestern battleground states. Michigan, which former President Trump narrowly won in 2016, and President Biden won in 2020, had the highest youth turnout increase of any state in the region: from 42% in 2016 to 54% last November. Youth voter turnout was also strong in Iowa (55%). Minnesota, which routinely leads the nation in youth turnout and overall turnout (and did so again in 2020), had the highest youth turnout in 2020: 65%. Impressively, that was a strong 8-point increase from 2016, when it also had the highest youth voter turnout rate in the country.

Midwestern states also tend to be less racially/ethnically diverse than other parts of the country. However, that’s changing: younger generations are more racially diverse than the states as a whole: according to Census data, on average, one in four youth across the Midwest is a young person of color—ranging from 16% in Iowa to 40% in Illinois.  On the one hand, youth of color—many of whom have been systematically marginalized from civic life—have historically voted at lower rates than white youth. On the other hand, young people of color played a leading role in activism and political engagement throughout the 2020 campaign cycle, and racial justice was a motivating factor for many youth.

A spotlight on the highest and lowest youth voter turnout states:

Minnesota led the region and the nation in youth voter turnout: 65% of young people cast a ballot, 8 percentage points more than in 2016. Minnesota is known for a strong civic culture and has frequently led the nation in voter turnout; the state adopted Same-Day Registration (also known as Election-Day Registration) nearly 40 years ago, which research has shown removes barriers to access for young people and improves equitable civic participation. 

South Dakota’s youth voter turnout was the lowest in the region and the lowest of any state for which we have data. The states’ overall turnout rate (all ages) was 66%, in line with the national average, which suggests that there may have been barriers to voting that disproportionately affected youth and that the state must do better at Growing Voters. In addition, this sparsely populated, rural state was hard hit by the pandemic, and we have previously underscored the challenges to politically engaging rural youth who may live in civic deserts—places where there are few opportunities for political engagement.

Wisconsin and North Dakota were not included in this regional analysis due to a lack of reliable age data on the voter file; data for Illinois and Kansas was not available at the time of writing.

Explore the interactive map below, which includes the Midwestern states in this analysis and the Western states and Southern states from our previous releases.