The media have widely reported the changes to the traditional early voting demographics. As many outlets have correctly pointed out, the surge in African-American and Democratic voters has been quite pronounced. However, I’ve noticed that some in the media are also talking about high rates of early voting among young people. I saw a news report a few nights ago in which the reporter proudly announced a surge of young voters in Florida. Hmm. I’m not sure the data support this assertion.
Take a look at the following early in-person graphs. The ‘ballots cast’ graph (left) shows fairly familiar patterns: a normal (“bell-shaped”) distribution, peaking in the mid-fifties. This is in line with our expectations. (Though African-American early voters appear to be a little younger: the mean (average) age of white voters was 55, while the mean for blacks was 10 years lower, at 45.)
But this isn’t the whole story. There are many more 50-year-old registered voters than 18-year-old. It’s worth asking how young voters are turning out in proportion to their group size. The proportional graph (right) shows the percentage of ballots cast by registered voters in each age-race category. For example, look at the 18-year-old columns. These tell you that approximately 34% of registered, African-American 18-year-olds, and 14% of registered, white 18-year-olds, cast their ballots early in-person.
The two proportional curves indicate similar age distributions of each group’s early voters. African-Americans trend a little younger (in both peak and shape), but the broad patterns are the same. And, certainly, neither indicates a groundswell of young turnout.By the way, this similarity also explains the apparent discrepancy in the average ages of black and white early voters. It is largely a discrepancy in the ages of black and white registered voters. In Florida—the retirement state—registered African-American voters are younger, on average, than registered white voters.
Excepting the small spikes at the youngest end—and these age groups are numerically quite small—there appears to be little reason to conclude that young voters are turning out in high numbers. Unlike some other demographic groups, young people do not appear to be confounding conventional wisdom. Indeed, the most interesting thing about these graphs is that they, again, highlight the high African-American turnout overall.
I’ve included the proportional partisan graphs too, and the story is much the same.
A few points to note; remember my Florida caveats. First, the registration data are slightly outdated (we obtained our files in the Summer). Since then, registration has climbed precipitously, with reports of many new young voters joining the rolls. So, we are likely to have overstated—but not understated—proportional turnout for some categories (and especially at the young end).
Second, these are only early in-person breakdowns. (In Florida, only registered political parties have access to absentee-by-mail data during the election period.) Absentee-by-mail voters, especially in this state, are more likely to be older (and whiter, and more Republican, etc), so this too is unlikely to affect the conclusion that young voters aren’t turning out in noteworthy numbers.
Where’s the promised youth excitement? It will be interesting to compare these trends to those on Election Day.