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The Youth Vote in 2012 and the Role of Young Women

Based on new Census data we provide updated, comprehensive analysis of youth voting in 2012, including the role of young women.

With this week’s release of the Census Current Population Survey November Supplement, or CPS, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) today published final estimates of how young people voted in the 2012 election.

Using the CPS turnout data and National Election Pools exit poll statistics, CIRCLE exclusively estimates that approximately 14.8 million voters under 30 cast their votes for Barack Obama in 2008. Only about 12.3 million young voters chose Obama in 2012 — a drop of close to 2.5 million votes. Obama received about 3.7 million fewer total votes from all age groups in 2012 than he had in 2008. Voter turnout in 2012 was 45% for people between the ages of 18-29, down from 51% in 2008.

Our new fact sheet analyzes CPS data to present a detailed portrait of young adults’ turnout over time and in the last election.

Among the findings:

  • Young Women Have Become More Likely to Vote than Young Men: Although in the 1972 general election, men and women were equally likely to go to the polls, over the past thirty years, a gap has emerged in presidential election turnout. By 1992, 54 percent of women ages 18-29 voted while only 50 percent of men did so. In 2012, the gender gap in turnout was 7.1 points (with women ahead).
  • 2012 Youth Voter Turnout Highest in Battleground States, Regardless of Whether they Leaned Democratic or Republican: In general, competition among candidates and parties raises youth turnout. Turnout amongst young voters was higher in competitive (“battleground”) states in 2012 than in other states.
  • Participation of Young African Americans was Strong in 2012: African American youth turnout was 53.7% for 18-29s in 2012, much higher than the average rate for young Americans and indeed higher than the rate posted by young White people in almost all elections between 1976 and 2012. However, African American youth turnout was down by 4.5 percentage points compared to the record-setting rate in 2008.

Young Women Drove Youth Turnout

Since 1972, when 18- and 19-year-olds won the right to vote, young women have been more likely than young men to vote. In 2012, this gap decreased by one percentage point compared to 2008.

An additional new CIRCLE fact sheet goes into more depth about the differences in how young women and men participated in the 2012 election. We report voter turnout, candidate choice, party ID, and self-reported political ideology by gender and by several intersecting demographics (race and ethnicity, education, and marital status).

Major findings include:

  • In 2012 the turnout rate among single young men was 41.1%, compared to a 48.3% turnout rate among young single females.  In 2012, nearly 52.5% of young married females voted compared to 46.5% of married men.
  • Despite the turnout decline among all young women, African-American young women continued to vote at the highest rate among young voters in 2012. Young African-American women had the highest turnout of any gender and racial or ethnic group of young people (the next highest group was White women at 48.7% and then young African-American men at 46.4%).
  • Consistent with trends observed for all young people, young women with higher levels of education are more likely to vote. Between 2008 and 2012, the gap in turnout between young women with less than a high school diploma and young women who have completed college remained consistent, with a 44 percentage point difference in turnout.
  • Similar to 2008, young (18-24) women in college were more likely to vote than young men in college (56.1% compared to 48.4%, respectively).
  • In 2008, young women – regardless of employment – voted at higher rates than young men. In 2012, however, young men who were employed and young women who were unemployed voted at the same rate (46.2%).
  • Young women voters were more supportive of President Obama than their male counterparts of the same race. Young male voters tended to be more conservative and less supportive of President Obama, but to varying degrees. In 2012, young women were more liberal and Democratic than their young male counterparts. Young Latinas were the most likely to identify as liberal among all groups and young White women most likely to identify as conservative. Young White men were the most likely to identify as Republican (37%, though young White women were close behind at 35%) and young Black women were the most likely to identify as Democratic.