Youth Voter Registration Rises as Midterm Elections Approach

Analysis from CIRCLE shows an uptick in youth voter registration in swing states, but gains are not spread evenly across the country.

Published October 11, 2022

Edited by Raneem Taleb-Agha
Youth Voter Registration Rises as Midterm Elections Approach
Student Voting
Photo by Yffy Yossifor / Fort Worth Star-Telegram / Tribune News Service / Getty Images

  • Getting 18- and 19-year-olds to register to vote remains a challenge, data shows.
  • However, in nearly half of states with reliable data, voter registration among ages 18-24 has already surpassed 2018 levels.
  • Michigan leads the pack in getting youth registered to vote.

Data shows that people ages 18-24 are gearing up to vote in this year's midterm elections, potentially driven by the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University found that "youth" voter registration (ages 18-24) in mid-September already surpassed November 2018 levels in 18 out of 41 states with reliable data. The report states it is a positive sign for potential youth turnout, especially in swing states where the youth vote could be crucial in deciding races.

However, these gains appear not to have spread evenly.

“Registering newly eligible voters (ages 18-19) remains challenging. This age range has surpassed November 2018 registrations in only nine of the 41 states with reliable data.”

CIRCLE's report found that registering newly eligible voters (ages 18-19) remains challenging. This age range has surpassed November 2018 registrations in only nine of the 41 states with reliable data.

It is worth noting that these gains and losses are comparing September 2022 registrations to November 2018. So, potential voters have time to close the gap before each state's deadline to register to vote.

Alberto Medina, communications team lead at CIRCLE, told BestColleges that National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 20 has previously been effective in registering young voters, and may also help close the gap this year.

Voters Ages 18-24 Make Gains

Nearly half of the states noted in CIRCLE's report have already passed 2018 voter registration numbers.

The report also notes substantial increases in some states where young voters will likely have the largest influence on election outcomes. Using CIRCLE's Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI), those states include Michigan (+32%), Kansas (+18%), Colorado (+13%), Nevada (+12%), and North Carolina (+10%).

However, there are also states high on the index that have lagged, including Oregon (-2%), Maine (-2%), Pennsylvania (-3%), Florida (-3%), and Georgia (-4%).

"[These states are] behind by less than 5%," the report states, "which puts them in good position to surpass their registrations among voters ages 18-24 in the coming weeks, as states approach their voter registration deadlines."

Trouble Getting Newly Eligible Voters Registered

Voter registration trends aren't as promising for newly eligible voters, defined as those ages 18 and 19, according to CIRCLE.

Only nine of 41 states are at or above November 2018 levels, per the report.

That leaves 32 states that lag 2018. Perhaps worryingly, only three of the states lagging 2018 are only doing so by less than 10%.

Medina said that while it may seem like there's a lot of ground to make up in most states, he believes any state within 20% of its November 2018 figure is within striking distance.

CIRCLE's report also noted that young people without a voting history are less likely to be contacted by campaigns.

"The fact that most states are behind in registering youth in this age group highlights that outreach is still lacking," the report states, "and that there's a need for organizations, schools, and campaigns to redouble their efforts to register the youngest potential voters."

Impact of Roe v. Wade Decision

CIRCLE's report suggests that the overturning of Roe v. Wade — which took away the constitutional right to an abortion — may have fueled an uptick in voter registration in some states and among certain demographics.

“An analysis of newly registered voters ages 19-29 from August to September found that women were more likely to register to vote during that time. Women comprised 54% of new registrations during this time frame, compared to 46% for men.”

An analysis of newly registered voters ages 19-29 from August to September found that women were more likely to register to vote during that time. Women comprised 54% of new registrations during this time frame, compared to 46% for men, according to the report.

CIRCLE said this is a shift from previous election cycles, where voter registrations have been evenly split by gender for the most part.

"Because our data on youth registrations by gender only includes registrations several weeks after the Dobbs decision; it's possible that the gender gap is even wider since earlier this summer," the report states.

CIRCLE's analysis also highlights registration trends in Kansas, which featured a referendum on abortion in its August primary.

Compared to November 2018, Kansas now has 17% more registrants between the ages of 18 and 24. Youth registration was up 7% in June compared to November 2018, "which suggests that the primary and referendum may have brought young people into the voter rolls," the report states.

Medina added that while it's hard to definitively say that Roe being overturned led to all the correlation, he said he's confident that it played a "fairly big factor."

"There is certainly very strong evidence," he told BestColleges. "Young people care about this abortion issue in particular a lot."