Public Opinion and Voting Behavior

Understanding and Confronting Barriers to Youth Voting in America

Jared McDonald University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Michael Hanmer University of Maryland, College Park
We review the literature on youth voting, paying particular attention to how electoral institutions influence participation. We find that barriers to registration have a disproportionate effect on young people but that their removal alone will not be sufficient to produce large-scale shifts in turnout. Though there are theoretical, empirical, and normative reasons to make voting easier, we argue that electoral reforms designed to promote registration and turnout are best viewed as vehicles to facilitate other efforts aimed at increasing individuals’ capacity for and interest in participating. Advocacy groups and scholars alike should devote more attention to identifying ways to engage young people. We recognize the task is a challenging one but we are cautiously optimistic that substantial change is possible.