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Youth Voting in the 2024 Republican Primaries

Data and analysis on young people’s participation in the presidential nominating contests

Primary elections can provide an early indication of whether young people are interested and engaged in the electoral process, whether they're being reached by parties and campaigns, and how they feel about the candidates they'll have a chance to vote for in November. At the same time, they are unique processes with different rules and they attract different electorates—often the most committed partisans.

Turnout is far lower than in general elections, and youth participation can be especially low. Young people are less likely to affiliate with a political party, and are more likely to need additional time and support to register, learn about the candidates, and be informed and motivated to vote.

To understand how young people are engaging in the 2024 election, and what they may still need in order to participate, we're tracking youth voting in the 2024 Republican primaries. As contests happen and data becomes available, we're providing estimates of youth voter turnout in states up to and including Super Tuesday. We'll compare, with some caveats, to previous years: the last fully comparable election cycle, in which only the Republican Party had a competitive presidential primary process, was 2012.

State by State: Data and Analysis

Iowa: Low Youth—and Overall—Turnout in Caucuses

Key Takeaways:

  • We estimate that 2% of young Iowans voted in the 2024 Republican caucuses, but among youth who are registered Republicans turnout was approximately 17%.
  • Young people made up 9% of all caucusgoers—the lowest youth share of Iowa caucus voters since 2000.
  • Youth vote choice is unclear: According to one data source, Ron DeSantis won a plurality of the youth vote, while another source shows Trump winning young caucusgoers

In the first contest of the 2024 presidential election cycle, we estimate that 2% of young Iowans cast a ballot in the Iowa Republican caucuses. That youth participation rate is similar to 2012 (4%) and 1996 (3%), the last two times only the Republican Party had a competitive primary process. According to National Election Pool data, young Iowans made up 9% of all caucusgoers in 2024, the lowest youth share since 2000, when both parties had competitive primaries and turnout was also 3%

Note: While Iowa allows 17-year-olds to participate in the caucuses if they will be 18 by the general election, our turnout estimate only accounts for participation by youth ages 18-29.

Overall turnout appears to have been low in Iowa, which experienced below-freezing temperatures during the caucuses. With 99% of the votes counted, about 109,000 people cast ballots in 2024, a smaller number than in 2012.

Moreover, according to our research, young there has been a decrease in young people registered with either major political party in Iowa, including a 34% decrease in registered Republican youth compared to January 2020. There are about 59,000 registered Republican youth in the state; meaning approximately 17% of them voted in the 2024 Iowa caucuses.

Data Differs on Youth Vote Choice

While former president Donald Trump won a comfortable victory in the Iowa caucuses, different data sources paint a vastly different picture of how he performed among youth. According to the National Election Pool entrance poll, Ron DeSantis won the highest share of the vote from youth (30%), followed by Nikki Haley (25%). Trump came in third among young voters with 22% support from caucusgoers under 30—just one point ahead of Vivek Ramaswamy, who got just 8% of the vote from all caucusgoers but 21% from youth.

According to AP VoteCast data, Trump had majority support from youth (53%), with DeSantis, Haley, and Ramaswamy all between 14-17%. These two surveys use different methodologies (see information from Edison Research and from AP VoteCast); we will continue to track their data in upcoming GOP primaries. But given the National Election Pool data, it is possible that, at least in some states, Trump may not be young Republicans’ top choice in 2024.

Looking Ahead

While Iowa turnout was low in this first GOP contest of the cycle, it does not necessarily portend low youth participation in the upcoming general election. Primary electorates are far different than general electorates, and Iowa had above-average youth voter turnout in the 2020 and 2022 elections. That suggests youth in the state have been interested and engaged in the electoral process.

Iowa will also have several competitive elections this cycle in which youth can have an impact. The Iowa 3rd and Iowa 1st district contests rank among the top 40 races where young people can have a decisive influence on the results, according to our Youth Electoral Significance Index.

There is still time for campaigns, organizations, and stakeholders to support and mobilize youth across the political spectrum. That was a challenge in 2022, when Iowa had fewer young people (ages 18-24) registered to vote than in 2018. It will take intentional, sustained efforts to grow voters—including in Iowa’s many rural communities—and ensure all youth in the Hawkeye State are ready to cast their ballot this November.

New Hampshire: 16% Youth Turnout, Strong Preference for Trump

Key Takeaways:

  • We estimate that 16% of youth in New Hampshire voted in the 2024 Republican primary
  • In an election with high overall turnout, young people made up 10% of all voters
  • Youth vote choice: Former President Trump won young voters in New Hampshire (58%) and did slightly better among youth than among older voters

We estimate that 16% of young people, ages 18-29, cast a ballot in the 2024 Republican primary in New Hampshire. That's slightly higher than the youth voter turnout in 2012 (15%), the last time only the Republican primary had a competitive primary in the Granite State. These two years have had the lowest level of youth participation in the past eight presidential primary cycles. According to the National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Research, 10% of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire were under age 30.

Electoral participation in New Hampshire was much higher than in the Iowa caucuses, where we estimated only 2% of youth cast a ballot in the GOP contest. The youth share of the vote was similar in the New Hampshire primary (10%) and in the Iowa caucuses (9%).

Turnout in the 2024 New Hampshire Republican Party appears to have been high compared to 2012. That year, about 258,000 votes were cast in the state’s GOP nominating contest. This year, with over 95% of the votes counted, more than 315,000 ballots were cast.

While there was also a Democratic primary in New Hampshire on the same night, in which President Biden did not appear on the ballot but won as a write-in candidate, our data is confined to the GOP race. The New Hampshire Republican primary was open to unaffiliated voters, or voters who had to have changed their party ID to Republican before October 2023.

Trump Wins and Performs Best Among Youth

Former President Trump handily won among young voters in New Hampshire. According to the National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Research, 58% of primary voters ages 18-29 cast a ballot for Trump, while 36% voted for his main remaining challenger, former Governor Nikki Haley. Trump, who won the primary 54% to 43%, appears to have won higher support from youth than from any other age group.

Unlike in Iowa, where data sources disagreed about which candidate garnered the highest support from youth, AP VoteCast data showed almost identical results: 58% of young voters for Trump and 40% for Haley.

In 2016, when former President Trump was first on the primary ballot in New Hampshire, he also won the primary with 35% of the vote and higher support (38%) from young voters. That was a much more crowded field, with six Republican candidates getting at least 7% of the vote.

Looking Ahead

Primary electorates are different from general electorates, and turnout in the former does not necessarily predict participation in the latter. Young people, especially, who are less likely than older voters to be registered or affiliated with a major party, often have lower turnout in primary contests. However, our analysis suggests that there’s a lot of work to do to engage young voters in New Hampshire between now and November.

CIRCLE’s Youth Electoral Significance Index ranks New Hampshire among the top 10 states where young people could have a decisive influence on the result of the 2024 presidential race. While we do not have recent youth turnout data for New Hampshire, the state boasts a high share of students enrolled in higher education institutions, which can provide valuable opportunities for voter education and mobilization.

South Carolina: 6% Youth Turnout, Two Thirds Back Trump

Key Takeaways:

  • We estimate that 6% of youth in South Carolina voted in the 2024 Republican primary
  • Young people made up 7% of all voters in what appears to have been an election with high overall turnout
  • 66% of young people voted for Donald Trump, the highest of any age group

We estimate that 6% of young people, ages 17-29, cast a ballot in the 2024 Republican primary in South Carolina. According to the National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Research, youth accounted for 7% of all votes cast in the primary.

That level of participation is close, though slightly lower, than in 2012—the most recent year in which only the Republican Party had a competitive primary in the state. In that cycle, youth turnout was 8% and the youth share of the vote was 9%.

Turnout in the 2024 South Carolina Republican primary appears to have been much higher compared to 2012. That year, just over 600,000 votes were cast in the state’s GOP nominating contest. This year, with 99% of the votes counted, more than 750,0000 ballots were cast. That may be due, in part, to a hometown candidate running: former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is also the former governor of South Carolina. South Carolina’s primary elections in recent cycles, including this one, have been held on Saturdays, which may also contribute to high participation.

There was also a Democratic primary in South Carolina earlier this month, which President Biden won with 97% of the vote. As it was not a competitive context, we are not providing youth participation estimates for that election. Notably, South Carolina’s primaries are open, meaning that any person can vote in either party’s primary regardless of party affiliation, though they cannot vote in both. 

Youth Backed Trump More than Older Voters

As he did in the New Hampshire primary, former President Trump won the youth vote and received higher support from young voters than from any other age group. Among youth ages 17-29, 66% voted for Trump and 32% for Haley, compared to 60% vs. 40% among all voters. 

In 2016, when former President Trump was first on the primary ballot in South Carolina, he won the primary with 33% of the vote but came in second among young voters (26%), who slightly preferred Senator Ted Cruz (28%). However, that race featured a large field of six Republican candidates, as opposed to this year’s head-to-head matchup.

Looking Ahead

While youth turnout in the 2024 South Carolina primary was close to 2012, it was the lowest since 2004, and the youth share of the vote was the lowest we have estimated since 1996.

South Carolina’s youth voter turnout has also been relatively poor in recent cycles in general elections: it was below average in 2020 (45%, compared to 50% nationally) and 2022 (18%, compared to 23% nationally). The state ranks fairly low in terms of facilitative election laws. While South Carolina has online voter registration, it does not have pre-registration, automatic registration, or same-day registration. It also does not allow no-excuse absentee voting and it has a strict photo ID requirement for voting.

That requirement may be an especially onerous barrier for Black youth, who make up a significant proportion of South Carolina’s population. A recent survey found that almost half of Black Americans ages 18-29 do not have a driver’s license with their current name and/or address (47%), and 30% do not have a license at all.

Youth who face such barriers, in South Carolina and across the country, need support to overcome these barriers, grow into voters, and be ready to participate in democracy. Our research has found, for example, that outreach from community organizations is especially critical for young people of color, who make up a sizable portion of the electorate in South Carolina and nearly half of all Gen Z youth who will be eligible to vote in the 2024 general election.

More Research on Young Voters in 2024

Pre-Election Poll

CIRCLE's survey of young people (ages 18-34) ahead of the 2024 elections highlights their likelihood to vote, their issue priorities, and the inequities that must be addressed through outreach and support.

Growing Voters

CIRCLE's comprehensive framework to promote higher and more equitable youth voting includes recommendations for all stakeholders in a community to engage young people in 2024 and beyond.

Key Races for Youth

CIRCLE's 2024 Youth Electoral Significance Index uses data to rank the states and districts where young voters can have the biggest influence on presidential, House, and Senate results this November.