The Roadblock Young Adults Set For Themselves Over Voting

Americans ages 18 to 29 are less confident in their political knowledge than those who are older, a new poll finds, and more likely to think it's a reason not to vote.

Young voters could have a huge influence on the November elections, when 10% of eligible voters will be younger than 23. But first they have to show up, and new polling suggests that they may be more likely than older voters to think a lack of knowledge means they should skip it.

Forty percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that people shouldn’t vote unless they’re well-informed about the elections, compared with 28% of Americans overall, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov and HuffPost.

That could affect the decision to vote. Only 16% of Americans 18 to 29 would consider themselves very well informed, compared with 29% of 30- to 34-year-olds, 39% of 45- to 64-year-olds and about half of those 65 and older, according to the HuffPost/YouGov poll. Thirty-nine percent of voters under the age of 30 categorize themselves as somewhat well informed, 24% as not very well informed and 11% as not at all well informed.

Young voters have long gotten a bad rap for being uninterested in politics. That’s not necessarily true ― and in recent years, young people have led demonstrations over racial justice, climate change and more. But young voter turnout is still relatively low. A perception that young voters don’t know enough to participate could be a culprit.

“There are young people who self-censor themselves from politics because they think they don’t know enough,” said Abby Kiesa, the director of impact at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. “Our data suggests that there are more young people saying ‘I don’t know enough so I’m not going to participate’ than there are young people saying they know everything so they are going to cast a ballot.”

That means that candidates need to make a concerted effort to get young voters engaged and excited, said Sarah Audelo, the executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, a nationwide network of youth political advocacy organizations. It also means that organizations like hers have to work to ensure that enthusiasm translates into actually casting ballots.

The most recent election provided some positive signs. Following the 2018 midterm elections, the Census Bureau reported that turnout among voters ages 18 to 29 showed the largest percentage point increase of any age group , jumping from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018.

“While participating is going to be difficult for everyone this fall ― not just young voters ― if turnout matches the enthusiasm we are seeing, I think we are going to be in a really great place.”

- Sarah Audelo, executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action

Though roughly 36% of eligible youth voters cast a ballot in 2018, their turnout was still much lower than the national average of 53.4%.

“We are really hopeful,” Audelo said. “While participating is going to be difficult for everyone this fall ― not just young voters ― if turnout matches the enthusiasm we are seeing, I think we are going to be in a really great place.”

Recent polls have shown this age group to be progressive, diverse and optimistic for change. And they may be more informed than they realize.

A poll conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement indicated that young voters are seeking out information on politics. Nearly three in four said they had read or watched the local news at least occasionally. And 71% reported having fact-checked information they saw on the coronavirus.

That same data indicated that 41% of young people had also created content on politics, current events or social issues to share on social media platforms, with 21% saying they did that regularly.

“We see young people that are engaged all over the country,” Kiesa said. “We saw a midterm election in 2018 where youth voter turnout jumped for every state for which we have data, some states it jumped double digits, and all of that in our data analysis came from young people’s leadership and youth engaging other young people.”

Young people’s engagement in the political process is wider than just voting, Kiesa noted. That involvement may look quite different than just casting a ballot on Election Day. Political participation has changed drastically in the last couple of decades. Young people donate to campaigns, volunteer for campaigns and encourage political activism on social media.

“Young people’s political ideologies are diverse, young people’s partisanship is diverse and the way young people participate is diverse, and I think that is mirrored in how young people think about voting and, frankly, how they participate in elections,” Kiesa said.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted July 16-19 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate.

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