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November 07, 2006

youth turnout in '06

This is the place to come to find out how (and whether) young people vote. CIRCLE calculates the youth turnout after each national election, and we'll put estimates on the CIRCLE site as soon as we can tomorrow morning. I will then comment here.

We calculate youth turnout by starting with the national exit polls' estimate of the proportion of voters who were young, multiplying by state election officials' count of all the ballots counted as of Nov. 8, and dividing by the Census Bureau's estimate of the number of American residents who are young adults. The result is just an estimate, but that's all we can ever have when we look at turnout by demographic groups. Besides, in past years, this method has closely tracked the results of Census' November current population survey, which is the only alternative source.

Getting the news out was important in '04. As many readers of this blog know, the Associated Press misreported the turnout statistics last time. The AP reporter looked only at the percentage of voters who were young and concluded that youth turnout had fallen, when in fact it had surged by 11 points in a banner year for participation. I called her but she resisted my entreaties. DailyKos and other bloggers picked up the AP story as an explanation of Kerry's defeat. (Young people were supposed to turn out for Kerry; Kerry lost; ergo, young people must have stayed home. Which was bad logic, since Kerry's brightest news was his strong support from under-30s.)

Once the AP and the blogosphere had the wrong story, it built on itself. I watched a TV reporter ask a political scientist who shall remain nameless, "Why do you think the youth vote fizzled?" He replied with a long explanation about low trust in government, apathy, ignorance, blah, and blah. That story teaches a lesson about not accepting the factual premises of reporters' questions unless you know them to be true.

This year, I am somewhat worried that any real positive news about youth turnout will be mangled again, because reporters will compare '06 to '04 (which is unfair) or will again be confused by the difference between youth turnout and youth voters as a share of all voters. Still, we've done our best with press releases and advisories and are willing to stay up all night to obtain vote tallies so we can have a turnout estimate on our site ASAP tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we have detailed historical data on youth voting, including graphs for each state, here.

Posted by peterlevine at November 7, 2006 02:19 PM

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