The Youth Vote, Explained in Deep Detail

The youth vote at work.Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal via ZUMA

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What’s with the youth vote, anyway? Every four years the kids seem really excited, but then they don’t turn out to vote. What’s going on?

The answer is surprisingly simple. When we think of the “youth vote,” the image that almost certainly pops into your mind is a 20-year-old college student wearing a Bernie cap and leading campus rallies against sexual violence. They care about social justice, climate change, and trans rights. But even if college students vote in large numbers, they make up only a small percentage of the 18-29 population. There are roughly 17 million undergrads enrolled in two- and four-year colleges right now, compared to a total population of 54 million. That’s 30 percent.

The other 70 percent are all working stiffs. You won’t see them in the pictures used to illustrate stories about “what young people are thinking today,” but they constitute by far the biggest share of this demographic—and to put it gently, they probably care about different things than your typical university undergrad. This is the real youth vote, and that makes them the voters we need to target. But do we?

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