The Root Of Low Youth Voter TurnOut

July 12, 2017 - 10 minutes read

Voter behavior is one of the main concerns of all political campaigns. Due to this, modern campaigns use all digital tools and methods at their disposal to target every voter as an individual. While this has led to an increase in vocal support for the campaigns, they do not always result in a vote come election day.


Why would an active supporter not cast their vote? What could be the cause behind otherwise out and about people staying away from the voting booth?

This is not a recent cause for concern. In elections around the globe, voter turnout has always been a fraction of the support seen during the campaign. A lot of people are not even registered to vote. This was the focus of a survey conducted by GfK (one of the largest names in market research) on behalf of the PEW Charitable Trust during the US Presidential Campaign of 2016.

This Voting Frequency Survey found that among the unregistered voters, those who were open to registering were often younger. Forty-six percent of the people who said they would register were youths below 29 years of age. That is much higher than the interest shown by the unregistered citizen of older generations.

cause of low youth voters

So young people tend to put off political activity for later years. However, that is not the only reason behind low turnout for young voters. There are some major factors keeping even the politically-motivated youth out of the voting booth. Here we have tried to shed light on some of those reasons.

Focus on the bigger elections

Due to high media coverage, you can’t really keep yourself out of a national election. So even the younger generation gets drawn to the furor. This leads to youngsters starting off with a vote at a Presidential or some other large-scale election, hoping their vote is going to make a difference.

When it comes to a local election, the same voters wouldn’t care to utilize their voting rights. This should actually be the other way around.The local vote matters more. Change could be affected if voter turnout goes up at a local level. At a city or municipal election, an individual vote has more chances of affecting the outcome. However, young people often have little knowledge of who their Representatives or Senators are. They skip the small elections and turn up at a big election where they fail to see their vote produce any result. This serves as a quick discouragement for future elections.

Grievance against the electoral system

The electoral college makes a lot of people consider their vote to be useless in states where the outcome is known. Since the winner in the state gets all of the electoral votes, a lot of young people supporting the opponent do not turn up to vote. The same even stands for primaries where the ‘Winner takes all’ system is in place.

In fact, this is a common observance for voters across all demographics. This also keeps the state strongly affiliated to one side and no actual competition takes place.

A self-fulfilling prophecy

In swing states, youth voters could make a difference if they voted as much as the older generations do. But they do not turn up which means they fail to see the changes they wish for. This, in turn, discourages participation and they don’t vote in future elections either. This causes a cycle where youngsters don’t vote because they feel their single vote does not make a difference; as a result, a majority of those votes are left unutilized.

When they do show up to vote, it is for someone who promises big changes to the system. This breaks up the majority by drawing voters away from the major parties, further failing to show any result.

Registration being a hurdle

Many states have rules which make it hard for young people to vote. Some make it specific that voters have to be from the addresses they pay taxes from or their vehicle is registered from. This means college goers would have to travel back home or request an absentee ballot weeks in advance.

If they do wish to vote from campus, they’d have to update their voter registration. Many states do not have online voter registration. This is already an impediment for youngsters who are used to easy access to most things. Further, young people tend to move between dorms and apartments which means they’d have to update their legal forms to list their current address every time.

Passion getting subdued

In the past, a change in law or policy was quick to affect lives. The standards for a stable life were considered to be a home, a car, insurance, retirement fund and vacations. So financial instability or debt made people react against the system in place.

Now people are used to flexible lifestyles. There are no set standards and most people are able to enjoy a quality life at lower costs. With television, social media and e-commerce, they also stay content in the safety of their homes, without their lives being affected. Any frustration gets released in online speech and keeps them subdued when it comes to voting. This means the younger generation do not carry their opinion directly to the voting booth as the older generations used to do.

Unaffected by changes

Most policies and issues that parties focus on do not affect people until much later in life. Which means turnout for older voters is expected to be high in most elections. However, because of this, parties address concerns of the older demographic in their campaign and try to position themselves as beneficial to older folk. This leaves the issues that have long-term consequences out of the picture.

So young voters do not see their issues being addressed and decide not to back either party. This keeps young voter turnout low in the election. Parties see youth issues as a low return on investment.

Duty of a citizen

The consensus of what activity defines a good citizen differs among registered and unregistered voters in the US. This was seen in the PEW Charitable Trust’s voter survey. While many consider that they owe a civic duty as a citizen, unregistered voters do not consider voting their duty. They are more open to serving jury duty than voting. This makes young voters look at voting as a choice and choose not to participate when they are not directly affected.

Gaining emotional maturity

Young people have a hard time coping with failure and are more prone to cynicism. So when the party or candidate they back fails to come out on top, they abandon support altogether. This means they do not get fully invested at any time. With every cycle, their choice of who to support depends on how the candidate makes them feel.

Over time, however, they realize that the core issues stay the same. So their stance gets stronger on the change they want and the influence of raw emotion decreases. This makes them start voting for the party that even though do not promise what they wish for, would still take a step in the right direction. So voter turnout tends to go up as voters mature.


These are some of the causes behind low turnout for young voters in most elections. With campaigns changing focus and digital tools making it easy to address individual voters, young people are taking to the voting booth more often in recent years. Volunteer activism, too, is on the rise for youngsters. Participation only stands to go up as modern campaigns keep young voters in mind and aim to keep them in the loop to ensure their turnout.

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