SUMMARY OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH ON
COLLEGE STUDENT VOTER REGISTRATION
AND VOTER PARTICIPATION
American Democracy Project National Meeting, June 15-17, Snowbird, Utah
Harry Basehart, Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD
Generally, the academic research literature is thin on the effectiveness of college student voter registration programs. Nevertheless, good sources of information are available, including Current Population Reports from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and two recent national surveys.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004. http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p20-556.pdf
Registration information by state and age groups http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/cps2004/tab04b.xls
In 2004, according to census data, the 18-24 citizen population was 24.8 million, with a registration rate of 57.6 percent. Citizen population includes, of course, both college students and non-students.
Richard Niemi and Michael Hanmer (University of Rochester) completed one of the first national surveys of college students after the November 2004 election:
College Students in the 2004 Election, CIRCLE Fact Sheet http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_College_Voting.pdf
Sample includes students living on-campus, off-campus, and at home; 88 percent of the respondents reported they were registered to vote and 88 percent of those said they had voted. Two/thirds of registered students were registered to vote in their home town.
The Eagleton National Student Survey (Rutgers University) of 1,000 college students who were registered voters was completed in March 2005 and contains detailed information on their registration experience. Authors are Susan Sherr, Jeffrey Levin and April Rapp.
The College Student Voter in 2004: Obstacles, Outreach and Electoral Engagement.
Most students (42 per cent) registered to vote at the “county clerk’s office or division of motor vehicles;” second most frequent site was “on campus” (26 percent). Students who received help in the process most frequently cited “parents or other relatives” (23.6 percent). University-related assistance totaled 19.7 percent, 13. 6 percent came from “student or university sponsored effort to get out the vote” and 6.1 percent from professors or teaching assistants. Finally, students living on-campus were more likely to receive help that those living off-campus (67 percent versus 50 percent).
Youth Vote Coalition in 2002 interviewed 1,600 18-24 year-olds in a Nationwide Voting Survey that presents an intriguing look at the kind of messages that could convince young adults to register. http://www.youthvote.org/assets/YVCpresentationLSPmessages.pdf
Voter participation percentages are found in the Current Population Report noted above. Also, an excellent report by Mark Hugo Lopez, Emily Kirby and Jared Sagoff has turnout rates for 1972-2004 and analyzes factors affecting turnout of 18-24 year-olds:
The Youth Vote 2004, CIRCLE Fact Sheet http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_Youth_Voting_72-04.pdf
In 2004, 47 percent of the 18-24 age group voted, an increase of 11 percentage points from 2000. Turnout for all age groups increased 4 percentage points, from 60 percent to 64 percent. In actual numbers, voter turnout of 18-24 year olds increased by 3 million voters over 2000 (11.6 million/8.6 million). Young voters made up 13 percent of the citizen population, but only 9 percent of the votes cast in 2004; still their share of the vote was up from the 8 percent in 2000.
For young nonvoters, eligibility obstacles such as moved to a new location and not yet registered or lack of registration knowledge are emphasized as reasons for not voting in a 2004 survey by Thomas Patterson (Harvard University). This report is one of several in Patterson’s Vanishing Voter Project.
Young Voters and the 2004 Election
Patterson notes that Election Day registration, used in only six states, would benefit young adults, a very mobile population.
Donald Green and Alan Gerber (Yale University) have coauthored numerous studies using the methodology of randomized field experiments to determine the effectiveness of various Get Out the Vote techniques. Findings and methodology are summarized at
GOTV: Get Out the Vote
Green’s study of 2003 state elections in New Jersey concludes that Election Day contact of young registered voters by a phone call increased turnout by 3.8 percentage points.
The Effects of Election Day Voter Mobilization Campaign Targeting Young Voters http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/WorkingPapers/WP21Green.pdf
The best baseline data is potentially available to all campuses. HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2002) mandated creation of statewide electronic voter registration databases and presents an opportunity for colleges and universities to identify with reasonable accuracy their students who are registered to vote. Simply matching a computer list of students with appropriate voter registration list(s) will produce a tally of the number of students who are registered in the community or state where they are attending school.