Less than half of young Americans voted in the last presidential election

40% of eligible voters in the US did not vote in the 2016 election. Young Americans in particular often do not exercise their right to vote – less than half of eligible under-30s voted in the last election.

As we approach the 2020 presidential election in the United States, many voters will have already made up their minds about whom to vote for.1

But while large parts of the country — and the world as a whole — intensely follow new developments about whom undecided voters will cast their vote for on Tuesday, it is easy to forget that many Americans avoid the polarizing choice of whom to vote for by choosing not to vote at all.

One large slice of the population that often does not exercise its right to vote is young Americans. Less than half — just 43.4% — of eligible Americans under 30 voted in the 2016 presidential election.2 This was much less than the 71.4% of over-60s who voted.

This pattern is not unique to today’s generation of young Americans. Rather, voter turnout among Americans aged 18 to 29 has increased over time, from 36% in the 1988 presidential election to 43% in 2016.

But, the large gap in turnout between young and old Americans has persisted over time because the turnout rate among older Americans has also increased since 1988. In the 1988 election, there was a 29 percentage point gap between the over-60s and under-30s. In 2016, this gap was almost the same — 28 percentage points.

In 2016, approximately 40% of eligible voters in the US did not vote.3 This dwarfed the number of votes cast for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, who each received the support of less than 30% of eligible voters.4


  1. For example, Ipsos conducted a poll for FiveThirtyEight before the first presidential debate in September 2020. Respondents were asked how likely they were to vote for each candidate on a 0 to 10 scale. Nearly all respondents selected either 0 (no chance of voting for this candidate) or 10 (absolutely certain of voting for this candidate).

  2. These estimates of voter turnout among voting-age citizens in the United States are constructed by the United States Election Project using survey data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) November Voting and Registration Supplement. The CPS November Voting and Registration Supplement asks respondents whether they voted in the most recent election. The CPS surveys non-institutional households, which excludes military barracks, dorms, and prisons. Non-responses are excluded from the voter turnout estimates. To correct for over-reporting of voter turnout, the United States Election Project re-weights survey responses using the method proposed by Hur and Achen (2013). Access the survey weights.

    Hur, A., & Achen, C. H. (2013). Coding voter turnout responses in the Current Population Survey. Public Opinion Quarterly, 77(4), 985-993.

  3. Data source: United States Election Project.

  4. Data source for total number of eligible voters: United States Election Project.

    Data source for number of votes cast for each presidential candidate: US Federal Election Commission (2017) – Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

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    author = {Bobbie Macdonald},
    title = {Less than half of young Americans voted in the last presidential election},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2020},
    note = {}
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