Two-thirds of eligible young Californians failed to vote

More than two-thirds, or 2 million, of California’s eligible young adults failed to vote in the 2012 general election, according to new research from the University of California, Davis. That's despite a significant increase in 18- to 24-year-olds who registered to vote, especially online.

Young adults who sat out the election also tended to be from lower-income areas of the state. In Imperial County, for example, only 17.6 percent of eligible voters in this age group turned out to vote — the lowest youth voting rate of any of California’s 58 counties. The highest rate was reported in Marin County, with 58 percent of eligible youth voting.

“Even with the recent successful implementation of online voter registration, which helped boost both youth registration and turnout during the 2012 election, California’s electoral system is still challenging for many youth to access,” said Mindy Romero, author of the study and project director of the California Civic Engagement Project of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

“These findings suggest that increasing youth voter registration rates does not alone automatically translate into increased representation for youth at the polls,” Romero said. “Youth need education and outreach, particularly for those from resource-poor communities, to help them learn about and find relevancy in the act of voting itself.”

“California’s 2012 Youth Voter Turnout: Growth and Remaining Challenges” is the latest in a series of policy briefs Romero has directed for the UC Davis California Civic Engagement Project. Researchers looked at voting patterns using the California Secretary of State registration and voting records.

Registration among 18- to 24-year-olds in California in 2012 increased 14 percent statewide compared with the 2008 general election. While the total number of 18- to 24-year-old registrants increased 14 percent over 2008, 2012 youth registered turnout actually decreased 10 percentage points from the 2008 registered turnout of youth. Details on California voter registration numbers are available in an earlier report by Romero, “Young California voters shun party affiliation.”

Youth also remain underrepresented among voters when compared with their share of the state’s population. In 2010, younger voters made up 14.2 percent of the general eligible citizen population, but only 8 percent of the 2012 November vote.

“We see variation by age in voter turnout by party affiliation that widens significantly for registrants under age 45,” Romero said. She said party turnout of those ages 18-24 was far lower than the rest of the registered electorate, with those in this age group at 56 percent Democratic turnout, 52 percent Republican and only 43.5 percent who had registered no party preference.

“This lower turnout for NPP registrants is striking considering the high numbers of youth who registered as this affiliation — 29.6 percent of all youth registrants identified as no party preference,” she added. “If more youth continue to register no party preference over the state’s major parties, additional strategies will need to be utilized to directly address the lower turnout of this large proportion of the youth electorate.”

However, despite their low turnout compared with the general population, younger voters in both the 18-24- and 25-34-year-old groups exhibited higher Democratic turnout compared to Republicans, unlike older voters who lean toward greater Republican turnout.

Yet another policy report released by Romero this week finds that voters who registered online turned out to vote at higher levels than those who registered in traditional ways. In “Online Voter Registration: Early Impact on California’s 2012 Election” Romero found that 78 percent of online registrants actually voted, and only 70 percent of all other registrants voted. Youth made up 26 percent of those who registered online.

Still, almost half of people of all ages eligible to vote did not vote in the last election, among the lowest voting rates in the nation, Romero said. 

The policy papers are available at the UC Davis California Civic Engagement Project website.

About the California Civic Engagement Project

The California Civic Engagement Project is a new nonpartisan data repository and research initiative for the state of California. The CCEP seeks to address the limited quality and quantity of publicly available civic engagement data. Its mission is to collect and analyze these data from a broad range of sources, making them publicly available to all interested audiences, including political researchers, public officials, advocacy groups and communities.

Media Resources

Karen Nikos-Rose, Research news (emphasis: arts, humanities and social sciences), 530-219-5472,

Mindy Romero, Center for Regional Change, 530-665-3010,

Secondary Categories

Society, Arts & Culture Society, Arts & Culture Education University