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Young Women of Color Continue to Lead Civic and Political Engagement

Our 2020 data showed that young Asian women, young Black women, and young Latinas were more likely to talk politics, participate in elections, and fight racism.

In recent years, as youth have increased their civic and political participation both in the streets and at the ballot box, young women have often led the charge. In the 2020 election, we estimated voter turnout among young women was 55%, compared to 44% among young men. But, just as young people overall are not a monolith and differences in views or engagement among men and women, for example, are crucial to understand, there is also diversity among young women—especially by race/ethnicity.

As we move into another election cycle in which young people are poised to play a critical role, we’re digging deeper into our data to understand the views and recent engagement trends of young white women and young women of color. Our analysis reveals some notable differences that may speak to different approaches to civic life that campaigns, organizers, and other stakeholders should consider as they look to engage youth in 2022 and beyond.

We find:

  • On nearly every metric of civic efficacy and engagement in 2020, young women of color outpaced young white women and, in most cases, youth overall.
  • Young Asian women and young Latinas were more likely to talk about politics or discuss racism with friends and family, to believe the 2020 election would have an impact on their everyday lives, to participate in a march or demonstration, or to volunteer with a political campaign.
  • Young Black women and young Latinas were more likely to believe combating violence against people of color should be a priority for the country and to feel an urgency to do so; and much more likely to say they took concrete action for racial justice in 2020.

Committed to Action and Change - Though Perhaps In Different Ways

More than three quarters of young women surveyed in November-December 2020 agreed that they have a responsibility to get involved and improve society. However, young Latinas (88%) and young Black women (83%) were more likely to say so than young white women (77%) and young Asian women (76%).

Interestingly, while at first glance a similar question, the responses by race/ethnicity were different when asked if people like them should participate in the “political activity and decision-making of the country.” Nearly the same percentage of young Latinas (86%) said they agreed, but a lower—though still very high—percentage of Black women (72%) did. That may be due to a relatively lower level of trust in the ability of politics to effect change. When asked whether they thought the outcome of the 2020 election would make a significant impact on everyday community issues, 76% of young Black women said so—the lowest of the four racial/ethnic groups for which we have data. (Note: Some survey data is limited in its ability to reliably represent all racial/ethnic groups. Some young people, namely Indigenous and multiracial youth, are not represented throughout this analysis due to a lack of reliable data.)

On that question of whether the election would significantly change community issues, 87% of both Latinas and Asians agreed or strongly agreed. Young Asian women (82%) were also the second-most likely group of young women to say that people like them should get involved in politics. The rise in Asian-American youth’s political engagement was one of the big stories of the 2020 election cycle, and may have been motivated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent racist attacks against the Asian-American community. Indeed, after young Latinas (82%), young Asian women (80%) were the most likely to agree that COVID-19 made them realize that political leaders’ decisions affect people’s everyday lives.

From Civic Responsibility to Civic Action

With some small but potentially telling differences by race/ethnicity, a strong majority of all young women believe they have a responsibility to get involved in civic and political life. They also largely believe they have the ability to do so. More than 80% of young Black and young white women, and more than 90% of young Asian women and young Latinas, agreed or strongly agreed that young people have the power to change things in the country. A majority were already putting that belief into practice: nearly three-in-four young Asian women and young Latinas, two thirds of young Black women, and 58% of young white women said they considered themselves part of a group that votes to express its views.

The ways in which young women acted on their desire to engage in civic life varied. During a consequential election cycle, two-thirds of young women talked to their peers about politics, and young Asian women (75%), Latinas (71%), and Black women (69%) did so at a higher rate than young white women (63%). Most young women also engaged in conversations with friends and family about racism; with young Latinas (70%) and young Asian women (67%) more likely to do so, followed by young Black women (60%) and young white women (56%).

Following a trend we saw in the 2018 cycle, young women of color did more than talk: they took action. A majority of young women of color reported that they had worked with others to address an issue in their communities, including 65% of young Asian women, 53% of young Black women, and 51% of young Latinas—compared to 39% of young white women. The trend was similar when it came to protests: while only 24% of young white women and 29% of youth overall said they have participated in a march or demonstration, 32% of young Black women, 38% of young Asian women, and 41% of young Latinas said they have done so.

Young women of color were also more active in explicitly electoral activities, such as registering others to vote: 28% of young Latinas, 31% of young Black women, and 37% of young Asian women said they’ve done it, compared to 20% of young White women and 23% of youth overall. Similarly, while only 9% of young white women and 14% of youth overall said they’ve volunteered with a political campaign, 17% of young Black women and 24% of both Asian and Black young women reported having volunteered.

Motivated by Racial Justice

In a year dominated by conversations about racial justice, many young people were motivated to action and to vote by a desire to address racism. That was also the case for many young women, and differences in attention or approach to racial justice may help explain some of the above differences in engagement by race/ethnicity.

Young white women were about as likely as young Asian women and young Latinas to consider combating violence against people of color a high priority for the country —with only young Black women considerably more likely to say so than the other three groups. However, the difference was much larger when asked if they personally felt an urgency to combat racism: 75% of young Asian women, 78% of young Black women, and 80% of young Latinas said they felt such urgency, compared with 66% of young white women and of all youth.

Accordingly, 57% of young Latinas and 61% of young Black women said they took some concrete action for racial justice in 2020, compared to 45% of all youth, 41% of young white women, and 36% of young Asian women. The latter is somewhat surprising given young Asian women’s reported commitment to racial justice elsewhere in our survey, and may suggest they had a slightly different conception of what “counted” as an action for racial justice in 2020 than their peers of other races/ethnicities.

Indeed, many young people may be grappling with the question of what constitutes productive actions for racial justice and what they can do to advance it. When asked whether they have taken actions to try to reduce unfair treatment of people of color in their school of community, 62% of all young women said they have done so (compared to 57% of all youth), with almost no difference by race/ethnicity. It’s possible some youth have different ideas about what role their actions play in addressing racism. In fact, while only 10% and 13% of young Latinas and young Black women, respectively, said they were “not sure” if they had taken actions to reduce the unfair treatment of people of color, 29% of Asian youth said they were not sure.

Young women are, however, more confident about the role of political engagement in fighting racism. More than two thirds of all young women, including 65% of young white women, agreed that voting and elections play a role in stopping violence against people of color. Making the link between casting a ballot and effecting change on an issue like racial justice that they deeply care about is part of the story of all young people’s increased political engagement in 2020.

Looking Ahead

Our data underscores that young women continue to be at the forefront of civic and political engagement. They believe in their ability and responsibility to effect social change, and they put that belief into action in 2020—especially when they were motivated by concerns about racial justice.

At the same time, the differences in views and political engagement between young women of different races/ethnicities are important to understand. First, they highlight the critical role of young women of color, many of whom were highly engaged in 2020 despite youth of color being disproportionately negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They help paint a picture of how youth with different experiences and from different communities think about civic participation and about their role in politics. And they point to potential inequities of access and opportunity that must be addressed to ensure all youth can engage in civic life and contribute to a multiracial democracy in 2022 and in future election cycles.


Authors: Noorya Hayat, Aadhya Shivakumar, Alberto Medina

About the Poll: The CIRCLE/Tisch College Post-Election Poll was a web survey fielded from November 3 to December 2, 2020 By Gallup, Inc. The survey covered adults between the ages of 18 and 29 who were eligible to vote in the United Stated in the 2020 General Election. Sample was drawn from the Gallup Panel, a probability-based panel that is representative of the U.S. adult population, and from the Dynata Panel, a non-probability panel. A total of 2,645 eligible adults completed the survey. Of the total completes, 1,138 were from the Gallup Panel and 1,507 were from the Dynata Panel. Unless stated otherwise, for the sake of this analysis, ‘youth’ refers to those ages 18- to 29-years old. The margin of sampling error, taking into account the design effect from weighting, is ± 3.7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error for racial and ethnic subgroups range from +/-7.6 to 9.4 percentage points.