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Trends in voter turnout

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More than two thirds of American adults voted in the 2020 presidential election—the highest voter turnout rate this century. As we approach the 2022 midterms, political and special interest groups will be increasingly focused on “getting out the vote” among different demographic blocks. At SciLine’s media briefing, three experts discussed what the research says about demographic trends in voter turnout, including patterns specific to different age groups, the persistent gender voting gap, and additional complexities that arise at the intersection of gender and race. They also discussed voter-ID laws and other barriers that influence political participation among different populations and communities. Brief presentations were followed by reporter Q&A.

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RICK WEISS: Hello, everyone. Welcome to SciLine’s media briefing on trends in voter turnout—a topic in the news with pretty big implications for what’s going to happen at the local and state polls in November. I’m SciLine’s director, Rick Weiss. And for those not familiar with us, SciLine is a philanthropically funded, editorially independent free service for journalists and scientists based at the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science. Our mission is pretty straightforward. It’s just to make it easier for reporters like you to get more scientifically validated evidence into your news stories. And that means—again, as I often tell reporters I’m talking to, that means not just stories that are about science, per se, but really, any story that can be strengthened by some science, which is just about any story that we can think of.

Today’s briefing is actually a great example of that. You know, who turns out to the elections in November and how that affects the results is a political story, but social and political scientists have studied these dynamics, and their findings can and should inform your political reporting. So, I’m looking forward to hearing what these experts have to tell us today. Among other things you should know about SciLine before we get started is that we do offer a free matching service that helps connect you directly, one on one, to scientists who are both very knowledgeable in their fields and are great communicators. We do that for you on deadline or as needed. So, just go to the website and click on I need an expert. And while you’re there, you can check out our other helpful reporting resources.

A couple of quick logistical details before we get started. We’re going to have three panelists who will make short presentations of just maybe six or seven minutes each before we open things up for Q&A. To enter a question either during or after their presentations, just hover over the bottom of your Zoom window, select Q&A, enter your name, news outlet and your question, and if you want to pose that question to a particular panelist, be sure to note that. A full video of this briefing should be available on our website by the end of the day today or early this evening. A time-stamped transcript should be up within a day or two after that. And if you’d like a raw copy of the recording more immediately than any of that, just submit a request through that Q&A box, and we’ll send you a link to that video by the end of today. You can also use the Q&A box to alert SciLine staff to any technical difficulties.

All right. To get started, I’m not going to take time to give full introductions to our speakers. Their bios are on the website. I just want to tell you that we will hear first from Dr. Jane Junn, who is the USC associates chair in social sciences and a professor of political science and gender and sexuality studies—everything you want to hear about today—at the University of Southern California. She’ll be speaking about voter turnout, gender gap and how that intersects with how race influences voter participation. Second, we’re going to hear from Dr. John Holbein, who is an associate professor of public policy, politics and education at the University of Virginia. He’s going to talk about age and voter turnout and how that relationship intersects with race as well and what’s known about what works to increase youth voter participation. And third, we’ll hear from Dr. Nazita Lajevardi who is an associate professor in the department of political science at Michigan State, and she’s going to talk to us about U.S. voter ID laws and other similar legislation in states across the country and what the research tells us about how these laws influence political participation, who’s most affected by them and some of the challenges, actually, to studying their actual impact. OK. Let’s get started. And over to you to start us off, Dr. Junn.

Gender and voter turnout


JANE JUNN: Great. Thank you. And I’m delighted to be here. Let’s just begin. I have a very brief presentation and just want to give you three things to think about—all the reporters, journalists in the room, just three things to think about when you consider the big and broader question of gender and voting in U.S. elections. That’s my email address there. And you probably also have it in the link where you can contact me.

So, I’ll give you the takeaways, and I’d like to give you three. The first one is that women are the modal voter—by that, meaning the biggest category of voters with respect to sex—in the American electorate. For example, in the last election—I mean, sometimes people find this surprising, but it’s been true now for quite a long time, really since the ’60s, particularly in presidential elections. So, as you all know, women gained the right to vote by constitutional amendment in the 19th Amendment, which was ratified and then became a part of federal law through the Constitution in 1920, a little more than a hundred years ago. And at that time, of course, they were zero part of the voting population for the most part, and now they make up 53.1% of the electorate—that is, people who come out to vote. That’s how we define the electorate. And that’s more than men, which are at about 47%—just under 40% of the electorate. And this is data from 2020’s presidential election, so not a midterm but 2020. But even in the midterms, what you’ll see is a similar distribution. And that’s even true at local levels and state levels as well. So, women are the modal voter, meaning the biggest category, and have been, outnumbering men in the electorate for many decades. These—and what’s relevant about that is, well, women voters are the most powerful group in the American electorate. Despite the fact that elected officials are disproportionately male, women are disproportionately a part of the electorate.

The second point I’d like to make is that the gender gap is a race gap. So, you all know that women overall support Democrats more than men, but that’s not true for all women. So, in other words, not all women support Democratic candidates by a majority. Instead—and you’ll see in the red highlight—white female voters support Republicans while women of color are very heavy Democrats. And this all begins to change when the gender gap appears in the 1980s. It changes because women of voters—women of color voters enter the electorate about 20 years after the Voting Rights Act and 20 years after the Immigration and Nationality Act are a part of federal law. And they carry white women with them, only making white female voters look to be more Democratic when, in fact, white female voters have voted majority Republican for president in every election since 1948, except for two. And we can talk about those, if you like. You can guess which ones those are. But—and the second point is that the gender gap is a race gap.

And the final point that I’d like to make—and this is related to gender and race together—that every election has a unique electorate. So, even if you’re looking at stuff—what happens in ’20, and you’ll say, well, it should repeat itself in ’22. Well, no, because every election is a unique electorate. And it’s important to make the following distinctions—that is, between voter turnout, which is driven heavily by mobilization efforts, and the distinction between voter turnout and what drives that and what drives partisan candidate choice. Second thing to distinguish that’s important are national patterns from states and localities. So, you might see California voting in a very particular way versus, let’s say, Georgia. And finally, contours of the electorate change over time. And in particular, these are related not only to age, as John will talk about in a moment, but also voter restrictions, as Nazita will talk about, but also the change in the population as a function of young people coming in and older people dropping out. And then in addition to that, perhaps the most important element of change in the electorate over time is the introduction of voters from diverse backgrounds as a function of immigration to the United States.

So, I’ll just give you a tiny little bit of data. It’s just a pie chart of the race and gender composition of the 2020 electorate. And you can see that white women are the biggest chunk of the pie, right? That’s a massive piece—looks like strawberry rhubarb pie. They’re a little bit pinker than the white men, who are the dark red category, because they’re a little less Democratic—I’m sorry, a little less Republican. And all the blues are Black women, Latina women, Black men. And that, actually—second to the last one on the legend should say Latino men and other. So, you can see that about a quarter of the population of voters—it’s the electorate—are voters of color. They’re heavily Democratic whereas whites are heavily Republican. And, in particular, white women make up the biggest slice of the pie. So, if you see advertising being directed at white female voters, that’s why. They’re the biggest slice of the pie.

So, the gender gap now—I just want to give you a brief way of—let’s look at 2020. This is vote-cast data. This is the kind of official data of exit polls conducted by the Associated Press and other associated media organizations, the National Opinion Research Center. What you’ll see here is those who voted for Biden—just look at the middle column, voted for Biden—46% of men, 55% of women, which yields a big gender gap, right? That shows that the difference between women’s and men’s support of the Democratic candidate is plus 9%, right? And you’ll see that just the reverse is true, where men are more supportive of Trump, the Republican, than for Biden. But the gender gap is nevertheless there. And as, again, you can see in the second column over which the share of voters—that women make up the largest share of voters in the population, 53 to 47.

Now having said that, you think, oh, well, you know, everybody’s—women are Democratic. But that’s not the case, right? So, this is just a disaggregation of the vote. A vote choice is given to exit polls, which is a great scientific study of voters on Election Day, whether they voted in person or by mail, for example. And it disaggregates the proportion of who voted for Biden versus who voted for Trump by race and gender together. And what you’ll see is whites, whether they’re male or female, voted for Trump by a majority, 59-52, men versus women. And then African American men, women, Latino men, Latina women and all others are heavily Democratic. And I think it’s a pretty clear indicator of the second point that I wanted to make, which is that the gender gap is a race gap.

Now, over time, the last thing I’ll call your attention to is the share of voters column. That’s the first column. You’ll see that white females, again, are the biggest share of the pie, and that over time what’s happened is that the proportion of voters who are nonwhite and, in this case, minority has increased. And this has gone up, you know, really dramatically since the 1980s. And that’s part of the reason why you see the gender gap appearing in the first place. That’s all I’ve got. I’d be happy to take your questions after the other presentations.


RICK WEISS: Fantastic—a lot of information there for us to mull and get questions around and, of course, a huge teaser about what are the two elections where white women went Democratic? We won’t—we’ll just let that dangle for a while. And I suspect we will get a question about that to satisfy people’s curiosity in the Q&A. Meanwhile, over to you, Dr. Holbein.


JOHN HOLBEIN: OK. Can you all hear me?



Age and voter turnout


JOHN HOLBEIN: Perfect. So, thanks so much for being here. I’m going to be talking to you today about some of the age dynamics of voter participation. And all of these things that I’m going to be talking about either are included in my recent book, Making Young Voters, or built off of that.

So. in the United States, it has been sort of a truism that young people are less likely to vote than older citizens. So, this is true going back all the way to the 1980s and even further to the 1970s, when 18-year-olds first gained the right to vote. They have consistently—young people have consistently voted at a lower rate than older citizens. So, you can see here this difference between older citizens and younger citizens, with older citizens being on the top and younger citizens being on the bottom, and the gap between those two groups’ rates of voter participation being plotted with the black line. So, as you can see, in 2020, youth voter participation went up to a level that we haven’t seen in decades. But still, that gap between younger and older voters remained relatively constant within the span of about a 20 to 30 percentage point voter participation gap between older and younger citizens.

And so, you might say to yourself, you know, what is this in context to other places, or is this just a phenomenon that happens all around the world? And the answer is, it’s not. So, the United States’ gap between older and younger citizens is somewhat unique relative to other countries. And in fact, the United States stands out in kind of the bad way, having one of the lowest rates of youth voter participation in the world and one of the largest age gaps in voter participation that we have data on. One other phenomenon that you should be aware of when you’re writing about youth voter participation is that many of the cleavages that we see among all adults are already present when young people are coming to the polls for the first time. So, we can see large gaps in voters—the voter participation among young voters by socioeconomic status—measures of socioeconomic status, education and income and also by racial categorizations, as well. And these differences between white and minority young voters, high- and low-income youth voters and high education status young voters versus lower—they’re large. These gaps are quite large.

So, the question is, why don’t more young people in the United States vote? The conventional wisdom here is that young people are apathetic, disinterested and disengaged. So, I don’t have to provide you with a summary of what everyone has ever said about this, but all you need to do is go to Google and Google in millennials are, and you’ll see some search result kind of like this. They’ve often been called the Me Me Me Generation. And this is a common thread, going all the way back to the days of Aristotle and to our more contemporary democracy, where people lament how disinterested, how apathetic, how turned off to social issues young people are. And the problem is that—or, no, the implication of this, if we want to address youth voter participation, is to increase political interest—right?—to make them care more about who is running for office, to care more about politics or public affairs more generally. That’s the approach we would want to take. The problem is that this conventional wisdom is not accurate, or at least not an accurate reflection of young people.

So, what I’m plotting here for you are two measures of political interest that we have from the American National Election Study, a highly reputable political science poll that’s used for many different research questions. And as you can see, across time and across all years, young people have always been very interested in politics. And that is capping out almost at the highest level possible, with 90-plus percent of young people regularly saying that they’re interested in elections. They care about who holds office. They intend to vote. And in fact, I just looked up the statistic for 2022. Again, close to 90% of young people say that they are going to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. The problem is that they don’t, right? So, there’s this persistent gap, what we term in the book the follow-through gap, right?

So, this is the gap—the difference between good intentions or a desire to participate in politics and actually following through. And it turns out that young people are nearly twice—or more than twice as likely to not follow through on their intention to participate. So, it’s less about a problem about voter apathy. They say that they want to vote. They say they plan to vote. They say they care about the issues that are on the ballot, but they just don’t follow through. And there are a number of reasons why that’s the case. And these tie in to some of the solutions that we have in the—that are discussed in our book for addressing youth voter participation. So, on the one side, making voting easier increases the chances that young people will show up and follow through and actually cast the ballot and follow through on their intention, right? So, Nazita is going to talk a little bit more about some of those specific reforms. We believe the preview of what we find is that making registration, specifically, easier helps young people disproportionately.

And the second piece of this is trying to focus on civics education reforms that put a meaningful change or that change meaningfully the way in which young people approach politics. So, rather than hitting them over the head with facts and figures about American government and politics, mostly historical, and forcing them to memorize those facts, getting them more actively involved in a more active form of learning works to increase youth voter participation. So, we see this in models that were—are starting to pop up throughout the United States and elsewhere that are trying to rethink civics education. So, the Democracy Prep network of charter schools is trying a new model of youth civics education in the which young people are not just memorizing facts and figures about American democracy, but they’re getting involved in politics. They’re meeting with elected officials. They’re help canvassing to mobilize people who are old enough to register and to vote, even long before they’re able to do that themselves. And what we see is from good evidence-based research that that increases the chances that young people who are coming through those programs will vote later on in their lives. And it’s a fairly large increase that we see.

The second thing that schools can do as we’re rethinking civics education is to help them overcome this barrier of voter registration. So, we see that when schools do this, when they help their young people register—this evidence comes from a program called the First-Time Voter Program, which helped do that across the United States—that that increases youth voter participation as well. The final thing that I want to note here is something that I mentioned earlier—is that the choke point seems to be, for many young people, the voter registration step of the process. In our research, we interviewed many young people across the United States, and they said again and again, things like voter registration—it’s archaic. It’s complex. I’m worried about making mistakes. Many young people do make mistakes on their voter registration forms, and they see it as costly and time-intensive. So, many of the reforms that make voter registration easier that are on the ballot—we have less evidence about automatic voter registration, although I’m happy to talk a little bit about that. But from historical evidence we have, reforms that make registration easier, such as online registration, pre-registration of 16-, 17-year-olds and same-day registration increase the chances that young people will vote. So, with that, I’ll stop and say thanks and hand the microphone over to Nazita.


RICK WEISS: Fascinating and, again, a lot of great data there to work with—we’ll continue on over to Dr. Lajevardi.

Voter ID laws and voter turnout


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: Hi, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. I am going to talk a little bit about voter ID laws and voter turnout. So, I think it’s probably not surprising to those of us here today that voting is, of course, one of the most centermost tenets of American democracy. It’s important. It allows citizens to choose their leaders, to influence policy and ultimately shape the democracy in which they reside. It is also the case that, when citizens do not vote, representatives can ignore them. They can ignore their preferences. And so therefore, the laws that come about and that can regulate who can and cannot vote in the course—you know, in elections has been subject to debate throughout the course of American democracy. But it remains really central to our debate today about who can and cannot vote.

The reality is, of course, as we all know, that the United States has long excluded groups from participating in the franchise. I’m happy to talk more throughout history about these different types of barriers that once existed. But for now, we’re going to kind of jump ahead to the post-civil rights era where there was continued resistance, and there has been continued resistance that is aimed to curtail the voting rights of Black Americans in particular, but other racial and ethnic minorities. It is true that Black Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities have the vote, but there are efforts to reduce the influence of that vote. Whether intentional or not, we have to take a deep dive and have a look at those. The focus today, of course, is going to be on voter ID laws, which are a form of voter registration requirement. But there are many different ways in which we’ve seen resistance in this post-1965 era. You can think about gerrymandering at large elections, where polling locations are, etc., etc. But today, the focus is going to be on voter ID laws. Today, they represent one of the country’s most important barriers to voting and thus, I would argue, one of the nation’s most important civil rights issues.

So, voter ID laws—what are they? These are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are allowed either to register to vote or to receive a ballot, or to actually cast a ballot on Election Day. As of 2022, 35 states currently have a voter ID law in place. But the reality is, is that prior to 2006, no state actually required identification in order for your vote to count. These laws have proliferated across the country. They’ve become stricter. But the reality is, is that the types and severity of these laws, they vary by state. They vary in the years that they’re introduced. And so, they’re—you know, tracing them over time and trying to assess the impacts can be a bit tricky. We’ll get through the—we’ll get to the methodological issues in a moment. There is, of course, arguments on both sides. So, proponents of voter ID laws argue that these are warranted, that they do not really reduce the participation of citizens. And we should really be thinking about voter fraud here. They’re helpful in reducing voter fraud, and this could potentially be a widespread phenomenon. And so, these laws at least help to verify the identification of voters in an increasingly contentious election environment.

Opponents of voter ID laws argue that these are burdensome and that they are effective barriers, that they place material burdens on segments of the population and that, frankly, they operate like poll taxes because you do need means, in order to participate, to be able to get the right type of identification in order to participate in elections. There is a map of voter ID laws that’s currently in effect by state. I urge you to go to the link that I have in my slides here. They’re—the map is created by the National Conference of State Legislatures. What you’ll see there is that there are five categories of voter ID laws that they classify. You can have strict photo ID, strict non-photo ID, non-strict photo ID, non-strict non-photo ID or no photo ID law. The reality is, is that no state—no two state laws are identical. And there can be quite a bit of overlap across categories. So, the NCSL does provide really a simplified way of categorizing these laws. What you should know is that these laws vary typically on two dimensions. So, whether the state asks for a photo ID or whether it accepts ID without a photo as well, as well as what actions are available to the voter who does not have an ID. That’s an important component here. The strictest type of photo ID laws are laws that require registrants who are attempting to vote on Election Day to present a government-issued photo ID as well as qualifying identification at a time after they cast their ballot in order for their vote to count.

So, Bernard Fraga, in his book, The Turnout Gap, in 2018, he provides a really instructive example of how a strict photo ID law could be enforced in a state like Indiana. So, a voter in Indiana who doesn’t have the right type of ID who wishes to have a provisional ballot counted must within a week after the election visit the county election board in person and either produce photo ID or sign an affidavit indicating that they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed. The reality is, of course, that not all registrants have this type of photo ID. And scholars have spent a lot of time to try to identify and measure the impact of voter ID laws on turnout, especially minority turnout. And this is where my qualification comes out. We need to talk about methodology and voter ID laws. These laws are not being introduced in a vacuum.

So, Highton, 2017, notes that it is not possible to design and conduct an experiment where we randomize some states to have a strict photo ID law and some states to not have these laws. And as such, scholars are really trying to measure these effects of these laws in a number of different ways. These studies—they differ in their findings, in the samples that they look to, in their results and their methods. But on balance, most of them are generally discovering that the very, very strictest forms of strict ID laws—they do have negative effects on voter turnout.

Now, again, the literature is always evolving, and it’s always changing. But I think it’s important to put out there that we need to have many, many studies in order to evaluate how these laws are impacting voter turnout. I’m going to draw your attention to some of these studies. I personally have co-authored three studies that have looked at this question. Across all three, we find a negative effect on—a persistent negative significant effect on minority voter turnout. Our work is not alone. So, Fraga, 2018, also finds similar effects. I have a link here for you guys to have a look at these studies. This work is supplemented with surveys looking in particular states like Wisconsin or in other surveys like the Current Population Survey.

Fraga and Miller, 2022, a very recent paper that was just published, looks at Texas, and I think this is a very clever design. Texas was supposed to have their strict ID law go into effect, but in 2016 a court actually stayed that decision and allowed people without qualifying identification to cast ballots. But they had people fill out a declaration explaining why they didn’t have the right type of ID. And so, Fraga and Miller basically estimate that about 16,000 Texans would have been barred from casting a ballot in that election. And they find that these voters are more likely to be Black and Latinx. So, it’s not just that voter ID laws suppress turnout. There is other scholarship that matters here, too. It is also the case that minorities are less likely to possess valid forms of ID that are necessary to comply with these statutes. And so, the material burdens of actually acquiring an ID fall harder on them.

So, there’s a number of studies here that sort of delve into that. You’re free to have a look at those. And it is also the case that minorities are more likely than white Americans to be asked to present an ID at the polls. So, these laws are being applied differentially by race as well. It’s not just the existence of these laws. It is also the case that poll workers are interpreting them and executing them differentially as well. I’m just going to conclude about, you know, are we going to get voting rights legislation soon? I’m sorry to inform you that, no, we’re not. It doesn’t look so good. Hopefully the midterms will help us get some more movement, but it seems quite doubtful. I want to draw your attention to HR 1, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that had made some efforts to try to strengthen our voting rights legislation. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act in particular was trying to restore Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act and was going to have a preclearance requirement for any change made to a voter ID law that was going to make ID law stricter. And so, that’s a bit of a depressing place to conclude. But I think it’s important to talk about the fact that, you know, in order to have a more representative democracy, you know, we have to consider the barriers that are enacted through these legal mechanisms.


What is being done well in press coverage of these issues, and where is there room for improvement?


RICK WEISS: Fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Lajevardi for a very data-rich presentation. I’ll remind reporters attending that these slides will go up on our website after the briefing, and you’ll be able to click on those various links and do that facilitated research that can help you with your story preparation. So, we’re going to start with the Q&A now. I’ll remind reporters that you can put your questions in the Q&A icon at the bottom of your screen. But while that starts to populate, I like to start things off here with my own question, which is meant to be something of practical helpfulness and value to the reporters attending. And I’d like to ask each of our speakers to answer the question of whether there’s something that they would point to from their experience looking at news stories on this topic that reporters could either do better than they’re doing now or maybe something that they’re doing great that you want to applaud them for. And why don’t we just go around the horn and see what kind of advice each of our speakers might have for reporters on this beat? Starting with you, Jane.


JANE JUNN: Great. Thank you, Rick. Looking forward to your questions. And I am going to talk about one of the things that I think reporters do really well, and that is talk to voters in the areas where they’re reporting from. I mean, as research scholars, most of us are—I mean, some of us are pretty close in to collecting data from individuals. But generally speaking, most of the data that you’ve looked at—and I think that’s true for all three of these academic presentations today—are based on large studies of, you know, thousands of people, and we aggregate them all into little data points, and then we give you slides which show points over time. What we lose in that is really the fine grain reasons for why people say that they do what they did and why they came out and all the very specific things that make politics interesting and make politics really about people and not just about national trends or what’s going to happen in a specific election or Supreme Court decision.

So, I think one of the things that journalists do exceptionally well is talk to regular people about what they think about politics and why they’re doing what they’re doing. And without that, I think that we would be much poorer off for it as scholars. I rely heavily on media reports from voters. I mean, I talk to as many people as I can, but it’s not nearly what we can cover across the whole 50 states and cities, rural areas and the United States as a whole. So, hats off to you for bringing us the truth from ordinary people about what they like and don’t like about politics.


RICK WEISS: Great. Thank you. John.


JOHN HOLBEIN: Great. Thanks. Yeah. I would just echo what Jane said, that it’s really, really valuable to get these stories, especially of young people and the challenges that they face, and I rely on that as well. I think one of the challenges about reporting on youth voting participation is that many of the things that influence and shape whether or not young people are going to cast the ballot are happening in between elections, right? So, they’re being exposed to civics education curricula. They’re being exposed to voter registration systems and have to—they have to navigate. They’re moving. They’re—you know, the things that are happening to young people don’t start and stop with a political campaign. And yet many of the—most of the attention that we get towards youth voter participation being so low is only something that comes up every four, two years. Whereas the challenges that are standing in the way of young people are ever-present.

The other thing is kind of low-hanging fruit, and it’s kind of a—it’s a caricature. But we do see this narrative show up that the reason why young people vote is that they just don’t care, that they’re just apathetic. They’re not interested in politics—that there’s just something fundamentally, morally wrong with the levels of how plugged-in young people are to politics. And that just doesn’t square with the data. So, I would say that those two things are two areas that could be improved. I realize the timing one is difficult because when readership cares about this is when elections are happening. But in as much as we can think about youth voter participation more than just during elections, but as a fundamental structural issue that we face in American politics, it will be to our benefit.


RICK WEISS: That’s some advice that should go to editors in addition to reporters. We’ll see if we can send some of that upstream. Nazita, over to you.


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: Thank you. Yeah, I guess, I think a lot of the reporting on voter ID laws sort of echoes what politicians and what political elites have to say about them. And any sort of reporting that does turn to scholarship often focuses on one study. And I was trying to make clear that there is a diversity of studies out there and that, you know, as scholars, you know, we’re sort of really trying to understand this issue, but it’s going to take many studies, you know, in order to draw more firm conclusions.

And so, I would urge journalists to have a look at expert testimony, actually. I think that’s where really good summaries and literature reviews of the impacts of voter ID on a number of different issues can be found. These laws are being litigated in courts. They’re being litigated in, you know, Congress right now. And there is so much expert testimony out there that’s just available. And I think that’s a really great way and resource for journalists to be able to understand and get, like, a good grasp of where the scholarship is at and really to sort of build on the totality of the circumstances and draw conclusions and maybe sort of focus a little bit away from the partisan debates at the elite level and look more at the scholarship in a more holistic way. I guess that would be my suggestion.

What factors influence youth voting patterns, other than ease of the voter registration process?


RICK WEISS: Great. Thank you. We’ll get into some questions now from our reporters. I’m going to start with one from Claudia Flisi, a freelancer based in Virginia. This is directed to you, Dr. Holbein, but others may want to chime in after. You say that U.S. youth are anomalous in their voting patterns compared to other countries. You also said that making voter registration easier would help, but voter registration is no easier in other countries. I vote in Europe as well as the U.S., and voting is harder than it is in the U.S. So, easier registration is not necessarily the problem or the solution. Can you address what else might be?


JOHN HOLBEIN: Thanks for this question, Claudia. This is a great, great point that I’m glad you brought up. I didn’t mean to say in my comments that voter registration was the only thing that caused this. And so, when we look at differences across countries, it’s very difficult to ascribe one factor as being the driving force. It’s—just sort of building on what Nazita was saying is we can only learn so much about the influence of, in this case, voter registration laws by looking at cross-country comparisons and raw voter participation rates. That can only tell us so much because there’s differences. Countries are different in many ways aside from their voter registration rates, and looking at it at that level can sort of skew our perception of the effect of voter registration law.

So, what we find is when we look within the United States, when voter registration laws do change in the easier direction, we see young people follow by increasing their rates to the polls. So, when we see these changes happening, there is a change. But this is a really good point. Young people don’t vote because of voter registration laws. They don’t vote because of the other things that are going on in their life. They’re highly mobile. They tend to be moving around a lot for college or work. So, there are other factors that are at play here, for sure.

Are poll workers being trained in their state voter ID laws?


RICK WEISS: Great. Here’s a question from Ian Stewart from VPM Public Media based in Richmond directed to you, Nazita. Do you know if poll workers are being trained in their state voter ID laws?


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: Yeah. So, I think this varies state to state, but my own observations are that they are being trained, but they are sort of also learning on the fly. The trainings are not very extensive, and people are also trying to understand how to apply these laws almost case by case. You know, situations present themselves that they haven’t necessarily been trained for, and they sort of kind of come together and try to understand and interpret the law together on Election Day. So, there is a lot of variation between states, but also by polling location. And so, I think—also I should just be clear, I think, of course, poll workers have the best of intentions, but who they apply the laws to do vary differentially.

Do issues like climate change or reproductive rights affect voter turnout?


RICK WEISS: Jane or John, anything to add on sort of implementation of voter laws right now? OK. Not your area. Let’s go here to Jacob Fischler from the D.C. bureau of States Newsroom. I’m curious about how particular issues, especially climate change, but other issues perhaps are affecting voter turnout. Is there any evidence that climate change is having any effect on turnout this year? How does that compare to previous election cycles? Are there—are other issues that are particularly salient this time around? And I think in particular, we can’t help but ask about whether the recent Supreme Court decision on reproductive rights might be driving increase in participation by women. Jane, is there anything you’ve got on that dynamic, to start?


JANE JUNN: Yeah, sure. I’ll start. I think it’s—and then maybe others can jump in about climate change—in particular climate change being an issue which is of high importance to young voters, in particular—many voters, but young voters in particular. Let’s talk about Dobbs, and that is the Supreme Court’s overturning of the precedent—privacy precedent set in Roe v. Wade for a woman’s right to choose, abortion in particular. And I think the jury is out about whether or not this will motivate either turnout or support for candidates who are not supportive of what the Supreme Court did.

But it’s important to remember a couple of things. I would caution against that kind of sentiment that—I mean, clearly, the Democratic Party thinks it’s going to work, and the Republican Party thinks it’s going to work in the opposite direction because many of the latter’s candidates are running by supporting the overturning of Roe and in support, in other words, of Dobbs—and running on that, along with state laws, which would then—I mean, let’s be clear that what the Supreme Court said was that it’s not a federal right and that any rights that would be—that would pertain to a woman’s right to choose reproductive freedom would then be based in states. But the Democratic Party, as well as many Democratic candidates, seem to be running on this. But I think that’s important to make a couple of points.

No. 1, abortion rights or reproductive rights more generally are not something that is a gendered issue. So, there’s a misconception that women are much more strong supporters of abortion rights. That’s not the case. There aren’t substantial differences between men and women. What you will find are differences in particular between older voters and younger voters, with younger voters having always grown up with the—with this particular right at the federal level maybe finding it to be more shocking. But on the basis of gender, there aren’t huge differences between men and women on this issue. And I think the second thing to keep in mind is that it may not be the most important issue. It could be very important to some people who talk to reporters and candidates who talk to reporters, but it’s not the most important issue for everyone. There could be other ones that are more important, whether it’s climate change or inflation or student loan debt or—among others. And so, I think while it is—I think it’s somewhat sobering to think about it in this way, it’s necessary to be reminded of the facts because this is a science briefing, and the facts don’t support the notion that all women are in support of abortion because if they were, they wouldn’t vote Republican.


RICK WEISS: Great points. John or Nazita, anything else about sort of issue-based voter turnout, maybe climate change in particular?


JOHN HOLBEIN: When I think about this issue of, like, will a curtain policy issue sort of solve our problems of low and unequal voter participation in the United States, it’s something that comes up every election cycle, it feels like. So, maybe my answer is a little bit too jaded here, but it seems like, in a way, we’re trying to have the political issues of the day save us from what are actually structural problems that are stopping people from casting a ballot. And so, I think these things can matter in the margins. I think we’ve seen, with young people especially, a lot of excitement and sparked interest in protests, obviously, around climate, not just in the United States, but elsewhere. And it’s possible that that will translate into increased voting. But it’s also possible that it won’t.

The conversations that we’ve had with lots of young people who are sparked to protest based on climate inaction would suggest that many of them see voting as futile. So, it’s—you know, it’s a real tension, right? Many young people say that they care about politics and they intend to cast a ballot and that—those numbers are already pretty high. And so, I would categorize this, like, issue-based approach where we hope that whatever is exciting in the next political campaign would save us from the low and unequal rates of voter participation to matter on the margins, but not necessarily to fundamentally alter the patterns that we see in American democracy for decades. So…

With new voting reforms in Florida, what might voter turnout look like among Hispanic voters and Black women voters in the state?


RICK WEISS: Thanks. We’ve got a question here that I think might be good for you, Nazita. This is from Antonio Fins from the Palm Beach Post. Florida approved new restrictions and reforms on voting, but Hispanic voter registrations have surged in Miami. And a Black woman candidate will top the ballot here for the first time ever. Any idea what voter turnout among these two critical bases will look like in November?


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: You know, Antonio, I don’t know. I think that’s just as honest as I can be. I think that looking at how Florida has, like, historically suppressed the vote—and with the changes in voter reform, you know, I think we’re all kind of looking to see what voter turnout will look like in Florida, especially among, for instance, former felons, you know, who are now having access to the ballot. So, you know, I think we can also be sure not to necessarily think that, you know, increase in Hispanic voter registrations necessarily means Democratic voters. I think we need to be careful in how we predict the subset of voters in different areas are going to turn out and for whom. And so, I guess I would ask Jane or John if they have any additional thoughts, but I’m not sure I have much more to offer.


RICK WEISS: Asking scientists to speculate is always a losing proposition. But if either of you want to add to that. All right, we’re not…


JOHN HOLBEIN: I mean, this is always the challenge, is we rely on historical data to try and study these topics of issues. And it’s hard in real time to know for sure. So, it’s a general phenomenon. I understand your frustration.

Is there a correlation between presidential visits to a state and the level of voter engagement in that state?


RICK WEISS: Here’s a question from Scott Morgan from South Carolina Public Radio. Is there any data that shows a correlation between frequent visits by a sitting president to a state and the level of engagement in that state among the president’s party’s voters? A lot of fuel is spent traveling around to states. Is it paying off?


JANE JUNN: I don’t know. Well, I mean, I think—are you—I mean, Scott, I wonder if this is in the context of natural disasters, maybe, because there are more presidential visits to places that have natural disasters. And my guess is that because—precisely because of the natural disaster, that would suppress turnout just because there’s been a natural disaster, right? You don’t need the polling place. You don’t have a place to live, whatever. But I’m not sure. I think the—I mean, we would call this an indigeneity problem because their frequent visits are driven, possibly, by the closeness of the election. So—or rather, you know, that a candidate that needs help, let’s say, running for governor or the Senate from the president of the United States—I mean, I think it—I think that I—my guess is no. But—and if there would be an effect, it would be a pretty small effect because that indicates a close election. Otherwise, it would be unnecessary. It’s like, Trump didn’t need to go to Alabama. He was going to win Alabama. Alabama was going to be won with the exception of Doug Jones during that one special. But, you know, other than that, I think a frequent visit would either be something related to a natural disaster, which would probably depress turnout, or it would be related to a close election, which it would be hard to then disentangle the effect of the frequent visits from the close election itself.


RICK WEISS: Great. Absolutely.


JOHN HOLBEIN: There was a recent—oh, sorry, Rick, to talk over you. There’s a recent study that confirms what Jane was saying by Alan Abramowitz and Costas Panagopoulos in Presidential Studies Quarterly of 2020. They looked at the effect of President Trump’s visits during the 2018 midterm elections and finds a very small, non-significant effect. And they speculate that, you know, in this context, the polarization that—many other things swamp the effect of campaign visits such—that would come along with rallies or visits, things along those lines. So, that’s in Presidential Studies Quarterly. It’s called “Trump On The Trail.” That’s the name of the article, in case you’re interested in digging a bit deeper.


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: A part of me wonders if those visits would matter more in primary elections, you know? When there’s two candidates in the same party, then maybe those visits matter, you know, to lend credibility to one candidate.

Are there surveys of people who don’t vote, to shed light on why that happened?


RICK WEISS: Great point. John, there’s a question here directed to you. You mentioned 90% of young people say they will vote, but they don’t. There are exit polls for people who vote. Are there any surveys of those who end up not voting to shed light on why that happened?


JOHN HOLBEIN: Yeah. Thanks a lot for this question. This is probably something I could also toss to Nazita and Jane. But there are a lot of survey data out there. That’s—in the current era of political science and political research, there’s no shortage of data. So, this is something that we can answer. So, the American National Election Study has been run for decades. And it surveys voters and nonvoters. The Current Population Survey—the CPS, November supplement specifically—asks questions about voting, participation. And there’s nonvoters and voters in that sample. And then the Cooperative Election Study—formerly the CCS, now the CES, so the Cooperative Election Study—surveys both voters and nonvoters. And all three of those have a rich array of data on characteristics of individuals and their context that they live that could be explored to look at differences between voters and nonvoters. So, that’s the ANES, the CPS and the CES.


JANE JUNN: I’ll add to that the Comparative Multiracial Post-Election Survey—CMPS—at UCLA. And the reason this one—so it’s got a similar set of measures. But the reason this one is so useful is because it oversamples populations of voters that are traditionally—have very small samples in national studies, such as Asian Americans, African Americans and Latinx. So, in a typical ANES survey, you might get a hundred people who are Black or Latino. But CMPS has several thousand in each one of those groups. And so, to get a better understanding of nonvoters and the difference between nonvoters and voters across the entire population of the United States—that is to say, all the races and ethnicities that are questioned there—I would refer you to the CMPS, Comparative Multiracial Post-Election Survey, at UCLA.


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: I could just add one more thing about the CMPS. It also has a module of young voters, so people—or young people who are not yet voters. So, I think they’re between 16 and 17 years old. And so, the same questions have been asked of them. So, if you’re interested in seeing kind of what are the issues that excite young voters, that’s a good place to go as well.

What are some potential solutions to increasing youth voter turnout?


RICK WEISS: Great. Another question here that, at least for starters, is directed to you, John, from Marie Cusick, from PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Lab, saying—noting that you mentioned rethinking civics education and democracy prep charter schools, making voter registrations easier, all as strategies to help youth register and vote. Are there any other solutions you’d like to add to increasing youth voter turnout that you can share?


JOHN HOLBEIN: So, there’s two—I like to group the set of interventions into two groups. One is sort of a longer-term change to civics. And one’s a shorter term or an easier approach. So, the easier—on the easier side of things, there’s been good research that suggests that providing young people with help registering to vote and providing them with voting systems demonstrations, taking a voting booth into the classroom and, you know, allowing young people to practice with it, see what it will be like when they’re going to cast a ballot—actually get that practical experience of what it would be like when they’re going to show up at the polls—that that matters, that that helps. And that’s a relatively low-hanging fruit type of intervention. In terms of, like, rethinking civics education, in our book, “Making Young Voters,” we talk a lot about, you know, this problem of low youth voter participation being driven by follow through, or a lack of follow through. And so, in the book, we talk a lot about skill development, helping young people develop the skills that they need to follow through in a given context where there will be obstacles that get in the way of them casting a ballot.

And so, many of these skills fall into the category of social and emotional or non-cognitive skills, the ability to persevere, grit, self—delayed gratification. These types of abilities are things that schools can foster and have in sort of pilot programs. And we’ve seen some really promising results for when those skills are developed. So, it’s social-emotional learning as sort of a longer—more focus on that in civics classrooms and in education more generally as a longer term strategy. But then also, sort of in the shorter term, schools can do a lot more to help familiarize young people with the voting process.

Has research shown that certain types of voter-turnouts efforts just don’t work?


RICK WEISS: Yeah. I think, as a parent, there’s also just browbeating your kid, like, get out and vote. I know I’ve been there for my teen. So, one last question I want to try to squeeze in, related, before we start to wrap up, and that is whether there’s been any research shown—this can be for any of you—for types of efforts that are intended to increase turnout but that don’t actually work. For example, do celebrity-driven campaigns targeting youth have an effect or not? Anything that you’ve seen out there that just is a waste?


JOHN HOLBEIN: I’ll let the other two panelists speak to this in their area, but I think the question—whoever asked this question has the right intuition because, you know, this sort of rock-the-vote approach for a—that has been taken for a long time to increase youth voter participation has limited—yielded limited results. So, I would say that this—that I categorize this in the, like, let’s get young people excited about voting. Let’s make voting cool or exciting. It’s like, well, young people already get it. They care about who’s going to run the—run their country, their state and local area. But it’s not so much about that kind of thing. The other thing that I would say is that many strategies that political campaigns use to get out the youth vote are not as effective. So, sending mailers or a variety of other light-touch interventions aren’t as useful as you might think. They help a little bit, but they’re not as helpful as you might think at mobilizing young people, specifically.


JANE JUNN: My favorite example of the mailer is there was some hypothesis that if you sent a postcard with Jesus on it, it might activate Catholic voters. And turns out, it didn’t matter. But the point is that there are a lot of things that we think might matter, like with your teenager trying to get them to study or get them to get up on time and vote or whatever, but part of the reason we don’t hear about them and we don’t know about them systematically is they’re not reported precisely because they didn’t work. And so, I think that when you see things that do work and consistently do, which is, essentially, mobilization by people that you know and that you care about because so much of how many celebrities will say something or put something out on TikTok, the one time that it might work is when we focus on it. But there are probably many, many others that don’t.

And I just wanted to add one thing about the focus on—earlier in my career, a long time ago, I worked on civic education many, many years ago. And one of the things that kind of bugs me about the way the conversation is, is there’s something wrong with them. There’s something wrong with the students. It’s quite possible if you look at all of—we need to consider the other side. All the solutions are geared at people, young voters, like, get out there and vote. Maybe they don’t have a reason to do it. And more of our focus and at least more of our critical ability should go toward why is the system, itself, so ponderous, so difficult, so unresponsive? That just completely gets, you know, elided. All of our focus goes on trying to fix these people who don’t vote. In many ways, they have a reason for not doing it because the government doesn’t respond to them.

And so, I think political scientists and journalists alike, all political observers, ought to try and more focus on the delivery of the provision of services and the representation of elected officials in government, which doesn’t provide an incentive for people. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on making people better civic citizens, but at the same time, we need to focus on making the government a better place where people want to participate.

What is one key take-home message for reporters covering this topic?


RICK WEISS: That’s a fascinating, very interesting point to add. And, you know, one thing that kids pick up on very well is whether something is serving their needs or is sort of blowing smoke. So, very interesting. Nazita, anything to add to this topic before we do a final round? Great. OK. Well, one thing I like to do at the end here is to just go around the horn one last time to get some take-home points for reporters, perhaps the most salient and quotable things we can give you in a briefing. I just want to remind the reporters before we start to wrap, that as you log off today, you will see a short survey pop up. It takes nothing longer than 30 seconds to fill it out, and it really helps us keep designing these briefings to be useful to you structurally and the topics that we cover. So, please take a moment to do that. And let’s go around and hear from each of our speakers just one or two real take-homes that you want to leave reporters with that are most important, that you want to make sure they don’t forget as they walk away today. And we’ll start with you, Jane.


JANE JUNN: I think I’d just reiterate the points that I started with, and that is that women—there are more women voters out there. So, if you see advertisements that look like laundry detergent ads, that’s why. Because women voters are the most powerful voters in the American electorate; that the gender gap is really a race gap; that white women are Republican voters, not Democrats, and women of color only make them look like Democrats; and finally, that each election is a unique electorate. And so therefore, you got to roll with the dynamism, embrace the dynamism, rather than being afraid of it.


RICK WEISS: Thank you. John.


JOHN HOLBEIN: Young people want to vote. They care about the political process. But there’s many things that get in the way. And anything we can do to make that process easier is going to pay big dividends for the next generation of Americans.


RICK WEISS: All right. Nazita.


NAZITA LAJEVARDI: Minority voters are suppressed by voter ID laws. We have to think about why minority voters are less likely to possess valid types of ID. And even when they’re at the polls, they’re being asked to present ID more than others. So, I think we should think about all the aspects of these laws on hampering turnout.


RICK WEISS: Fantastic. This has been such an informative and interesting briefing. Thank you so much for the generous contributions from our three panelists today. Thank you, reporters, for attending and for doing the work you’re doing to spread this kind of evidence-based information throughout your news stories as the election approaches. Please do visit our website at Follow us on Twitter—@realsciline. And we’ll see you again soon at our next SciLine media briefing. Thank you all.

Dr. John Holbein

University of Virginia

Dr. John Holbein is an associate professor of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He studies political participation, democratic accountability, political representation, discrimination, and education policy. His book, Making Young Voters: Converting Civic Attitudes into Civic Action, explores why youth voter turnout is so low in the United States and outlines ways to help solve this problem.

Declared interests:


Dr. Jane Junn

University of Southern California

Dr. Jane Junn is a professor of political science at the University of Southern California. She has been the vice president of the American Political Science Association and a Fulbright Senior Scholar. Dr. Junn was a member of the Social Science Research Council National Research Commission on Elections and Voting and a member of the National Academy of Science Committee on the U.S. Naturalization Test Redesign. She was the director of the USC-Los Angeles Times poll during the 2010 California election. She is currently at work on a new book on the “gender gap” and voting in the United States.

Declared interests:


Dr. Nazita Lajevardi

Michigan State University

Dr. Nazita Lajevardi is an associate professor of political science and attorney at Michigan State University. Her work focuses mainly on issues related to American political behavior and public opinion through the lens of racial and religious identity, and she has paid specific attention to voting rights. She is the author of numerous books and articles, and her scholarship has been featured in the popular media.

Declared interests:


Dr. John Holbein slides


Dr. Jane Junn slides


Dr. Nazita Lajevardi slides