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YESI Spotlight: Youth Electoral Impact in Georgia

Both Georgia Senate races, two House races, and the presidential race in the state are in our top-10 rankings of elections where youth can influence results.

CIRCLE’s 2020 Youth Electoral Significant Index ranks two of Georgia’s U.S. House races, both of the state’s Senate races, and the Presidential race in Georgia among the top 10 elections in which young voters have the highest potential to influence the results. Youth (ages 18-29) in Georgia have had a significant impact on recent elections and, in a state that has traditionally leaned very Republican, young people—especially youth of color—are positioned to have a high electoral impact once again in November. But as this analysis will explore, there are still barriers to voting that disproportionately affect young voters and voters of color. This leads to high percentages of undermobilized youth in many Georgia counties—including, potentially, many undermobilized Black youth. The key to unlocking the full potential impact that young people can have on the election will be engaging those critical populations.

Our analysis finds:

  • In 2018, youth voter registration and voter turnout was higher in Georgia than nationally, and youth voter registration in the state is up this year compared to 2016.
  • In the 2016 Presidential election, Georgia youth voted for Democratic candidates by a 30-point margin (compared to the overall electorate) in a state that leans Republican, so young voters are in a position to make the upcoming elections in Georgia more competitive.
  • Though Georgia has facilitative voting laws like automatic voter registration, pre-registration, and online voter registration, there are also policies in place that prevent people, especially youth and people of color, from voting. Voter roll purges, early registration deadlines, and closure/relocating of polling places are all important to address to amplify youth voices in the 2020 elections. 
  • Nearly half (46%) of all registered young people in Georgia were undermobilized in the 2016 presidential election, meaning they didn’t cast a ballot.
  • Many Georgia counties with a high proportion of undermobilized young voters also have large populations of Black youth. In over a third (18 of 33) of high-undermobilization counties in the state, 40% or more of young residents are Black.

A Diverse and Growing Electorate

The Georgia electorate is becoming younger and more diverse: 18% of Georgia citizens are ages 18-29, which puts Georgia among the states in CIRCLE’s 2020 YESI rankings with the highest percentage of youth in its population. Youth make up at least one-fifth of the voting eligible population in 12% of Georgia’s counties. In addition, 53% of young people in Georgia are youth of color, including 40% Black youth and 12% Latino youth, and more than a third of Georgia counties have a population that’s at least one-third African American. In addition, the two Georgia districts (the 6th and the 7th) in the YESI top 10 for House races have Asian American populations of 14% and 11%, which are much higher than the national Asian American population of 6%.

Youth voter turnout in Georgia has increased in recent elections. The presidential primary on June 9 saw more than triple the turnout (among all ages) of the 2016 presidential primary, despite COVID-19 concerns and problems with long lines and malfunctioning or missing voter machines. Youth voter registration and turnout rates in 2018 were higher in Georgia than nationally; youth turnout in the state jumped 20 points compared to 2014. CIRCLE’s most recent analysis of youth voter registration in 2020 shows that, in Georgia, the number of young people (ages 18-24) registered in Georgia was already 34% higher in September 2020 than it was in November 2016.

Young Georgians Have Had a Strong Preference for Democrats

With five separate races across our three separate YESI top 10 rankings (for House, Senate, and the presidential race) Georgia youth have extraordinary potential to influence the November elections at every level. Both Georgia Senate seats are on the ballot this year and are ranked #6 and #7 in the Senate YESI. In the YESI rankings for House races, the Georgia 7th is ranked #3 and the Georgia 6th is ranked #10. Georgia is also ranked #10 in the Presidential YESI. Though the general electorate in Georgia has traditionally leaned Republican, young people voted for the Democratic candidate by margins of 29 percentage points in the 2018 Governor’s race and by 30 points in the 2016 Presidential election. That difference in vote choice is higher than in other parts of the country; nationally, youth had a 19-point higher preference for Democrats in the 2016 Presidential election compared to all voters. This is one reason why youth in Georgia can play a particularly large role in election outcomes.

For example, in the 2018 House race for the Georgia 7th, the combination of high youth voter registration rates and high population of people of color likely made that race one of the closest in the country. If youth of color can be mobilized and have equitable access to the polls, they are poised to have a significant impact on the 2020 elections. If the presidential election is particularly close, youth across the ideological spectrum will impact the outcome.

High Undermobilization, Especially in Counties with Many Black Youth

Millions of young people across the nation are “undermobilized” voters, meaning they are registered to vote but are not mobilized to turn out and do not cast a ballot. This is no different in Georgia. A CIRCLE analysis of 2016 election data shows that only about one third of registered young people in Georgia turned out to vote, lower than the national rate.

Many Georgia counties with a high rate of undermobilization also have a high proportion of Black youth. Specifically, out of the 33 counties in Georgia where more than half of young people were undermobilized in 2016, in 18 of them 40% or more of young residents are Black. This underscores the challenge of working toward equitable voter participation, and the importance of stakeholders investing in underrepresented communities.

Election Laws and Statutes in Georgia

Several state statutes in Georgia encourage and facilitate youth registration and voting (CIRCLE analysis here). The state allows pre-registration for 17-year-olds, provides voter registration forms in schools, allows minors to serve as poll workers, and offers excused absence from school for voting or registering. Georgia also offers automatic voter registration and online voter registration.

That said, there are also aspects of voting in Georgia that may hinder youth voting. In an earlier CIRCLE analysis, we found that more youth of color face barriers to voting than White youth, which may help explain the high rates of undermobiliziation in Georgia counties with a lot of Black youth. The 2018 elections in Georgia showed that, despite the facilitative statutes mentioned there are still policies in place that prevent people, especially people of color, from voting. For example, Georgia has a “use it or lose it” law that purges inactive voters from the registration list if they haven’t voted in the past seven years. At the end of 2019, Georgia purged nearly 309,000 voter registrations but then had to reinstate tens of thousands of them because of errors. This process prevents registered voters from voting and because Georgia doesn’t allow same day registration, many people who don’t realize they were mistakenly taken off the voter rolls are unable to re-register in time for the elections.

At 29 days before the election, Georgia also has one of the strictest voter registration deadlines in the country. According to one investigation, Georgia’s registration deadlines may have prevented 87,000 Georgians from voting in 2018 because they had registered after the deadline. In the past, research has shown that young people are more likely than adults to miss their state’s voter registration deadline. Many of the states with the strictest voter registration deadlines (28 days or more before the election) are considered swing states.

The relocation and elimination of polling locations can also disproportionately affect voters of color. This can force voters to travel much longer distances and take more time out of their day to vote, contributing to the potential disenfranchisement of residents of lower socioeconomic status who may not have easy access to public transportation or a vehicle. In a previous CIRCLE analysis, we found that undermobilized youth of color in 2016 were more likely than their White peers to say the reason they didn’t vote was because of lack of transportation to polling place or long lines at polling sites.

Between 2012 and 2018, Georgia shut down 214 (nearly 8%) of its polling locations. Another 10% of polling sites were relocated before the 2020 primary due to COVID-19. Polling places are increasingly likely to be closed, necessitating that vote by mail and early voting periods (which are at the discretion of each county in Georgia) are equitable and accessible to ensure all young people, and youth of color in particular, can make their voices heard in the 2020 election.

Young voters are an influential and growing part of the Georgia electorate and should not be ignored. The state has facilitative election laws that, if implemented well, can have a positive impact on youth voter participation. However, there are also institutional barriers that can prevent registration and voting and that may especially be affecting young people of color, meaning they are not only an elections issue, but a racial justice issue.


Authors: Emma Tombaugh, Peter de Guzman, Alberto Medina, Bennett Fleming Wood