Engagement among young voters is higher this year than it was in the 2016 and 2018 elections and they’re enthusiastic about voting by mail in November, but access to information about registration and how to vote during the coronavirus pandemic could be an issue, a new poll shows.
The nonpartisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) poll found 83 percent of young voters said they believe young people have the power to change the country, with 60 percent feeling like they’re part of a movement that will vote to express its views, and 79 percent saying the pandemic has helped them realize that politics impact their lives.
But the survey also highlighted the challenges to participating in the election because of its being held during a national health crisis and not getting clear and accurate information about online registration and mail-in voting.
A third said they did not know if they could register to vote online in their state, and of those 25 percent were incorrect. Additionally, only 24 percent of those polled have voted by mail before.
“If mailing in ballots becomes the primary voting method in the 2020 elections, it will be an unfamiliar process for most youth,” the survey found. “Election processes are in flux and will likely vary from state to state. Young people’s access to, information about, and familiarity with online voter registration (OVR) and mail-in voting will be critical.”
Abby Kiesa, director of impact at CIRCLE, the independent research organization that collected the data, said the lack of access to voter information raises questions about how many young voters will get to act on their enthusiasm.
“The biggest flag for me is this need for guidance on, you know, basic ‘small d’ democratic processes like voter registration and vote by mail,” Kiesa told NBC News. “We clearly have some systemic issues in reaching young people with this information. And so these numbers, in a pandemic, when there’s going to be fewer methods to reaching young people is a serious, serious concern.”
The CIRCLE/Tufts College poll surveyed 2,232 eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 from May 20 to June 18. It oversampled 18 to 21 year olds, Asian Americans, Blacks, Latinos and Young Republicans. The margin of error was +/- 4.1 percentage points.
The poll showed that 34.5 percent of young Asian American voters and 25 percent of whites have had experience with voting by mail, compared to 22 percent of Blacks and 20% of Latinos. Those numbers were heavily influenced by geography — young Asian American voters are concentrated in Western states, where vote by mail is more common, while young Black voters are concentrated in the South, where an excuse is often required to vote absentee.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson told NBC News his organization has tested different approaches to increase voter turnout over the last two years, and in particular how they are working to convert activism over racial justice into momentum for votes in the fall.
“That’s the opportunity we are presented with,” Johnson said. “When you look at the protesters it truly does look like America… The opportunity here is how do we get people to march from protest to actual voting in November, and that’s some of the engagement that we are doing now and workers to drive initiating conversations towards the November election.”
Young voters who spoke with NBC News echoed the findings of the data.
“There’s no question in my mind that the enthusiasm is there,” said Andy Xie, age 20, a registered Democrat from Ann Arbor, Mich., who is voting in his first presidential election.
“What I would say is that for youth voters in particular, it’s not that we don’t want to vote, and it’s not that we’re not requesting absentee ballots, it’s that the process to vote is so, so difficult.”
“The main kind of obstacles to participation, aside from logistics, is just an apathy or just not really caring enough to go through all those motions,” he added.
Gennie Weiler, 20, from Minneapolis, told NBC News she feels confident and is eager to vote by mail, especially after seeing successes with largely mail-in ballots in primaries like Colorado.
“I’m kind of in the middle of the road where I’m not heavily involved in politics outwardly but I’m strong in my own convictions about it,” she said of her own political views while maintaining she’s eager to vote heading into the general, noting her parents voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.
While Trump has argued that mail-in voting would lead to fraudulent ballots, and claimed without evidence that foreign countries will manufacture fake mail-in ballots in order to rig the election, several states already allow all-mail voting, and even more states have loosened absentee voting rules due to the pandemic.
Nearly two-thirds of registered voters favor mail-in voting for the November election due to the pandemic, according to a recent Fox News poll. And countering the traditional narrative of “young people don’t vote,” some studies on mail-in ballots have found that states with all-mail ballots, like Oregon, have seen high turnout among young voters.
And new research from PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, shows vote-by-mail does not affect either party’s turnout or share of the vote.