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BYU study finds youth, minorities and Democrats among Americans least likely to vote

Voters in Washington County, Utah cast their primary votes in person, June 28, 2022.
Lexi Peery
Voters in Washington County, Utah cast their primary votes in person, June 28, 2022.

A new study out of Brigham Young University sheds light on who does – and doesn’t – vote.

According to a study of 400 million voting records by BYU and the University of Virginia, young people, minorities, and Democrats are the least likely Americans to vote.

The study relied on voter registration lists from all 50 states and only examined the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election.

BYU associate professor of political science and study co-author Michael Barber said the findings relied on actual voter data rather than self-reported surveys. He said that allowed for a more accurate analysis of Americans’ voting habits.

“When you ask people whether or not they voted, a lot of people don’t tell you that they didn’t vote,” he said. “You tend to get over-inflated numbers in terms of turnout.”

What surprised Barber the most was just how big some of the differences between voting groups actually are.

“Old people are voting at two, almost three times the rate of young people,” he said. “That’s way bigger than I had anticipated. That difference is really stark, it’s just really dramatic.”

The study characterized young voters as 30 or younger and old voters as 60 or older.

White voters were between 9 and 19 percent more likely to vote than minority groups. Republicans were also more likely to vote than Democrats but by a margin of only 5 to 7 percent.

Barber added that where voters live is also an important factor in whether or not they cast a vote.

“Much of the country is segregated – especially by race and partisanship,” he said. “Minorities are more likely to live around other minorities who are also less likely to vote. The same is true of voters of both parties. These patterns can create a situation that results in persistent patterns of lower turnout in certain communities for a variety of reasons.”

Barber said those national trends were seen in Utah, too, but participation is boosted slightly here by the state’s vote-by-mail system.

Eva Lopez, the chair of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party and member of the Young Democrats of Utah, said there’s a conscious effort to reverse that trend.

“There’s an ambitious goal to turn that around so that people actually understand that their vote is their voice and their voice matters,” she said. “It matters more than they probably imagine.”

She said that includes outreach in communities beyond the more traditional Democratic-leaning areas of Salt Lake County.

“We’re really expanding our resources and diversifying,” she said. “Before, we would invest greatly in Salt Lake County. We would be remiss to not invest in other counties.”

Republicans are reaching out to younger, more diverse voters, too.

Utah Young Republicans executive board member McKay Newell said younger Republicans are focused on demonstrating how young voices can have an impact on politics.

“There’s a lot of people that do want to get involved, they just don’t know how, or they're busy and it’s not a high priority,” said Newell. “A lot of what we try and do is just educate people that the issues that shape the future are ones that are very much ones that they can have an impact on.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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