BYU study reveals who is least likely to vote: Minorities, young people, Democrats

Sierra Tolman and Ollie Tolman leave after voting at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Sierra Tolman and Ollie Tolman leave after voting at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

When it’s time to vote, who is most likely to make it to the polls?

According to a new study by BYU and the University of Virginia, the greatest gaps in turnout are among minority citizens, young people and those who support the Democratic Party.

Researchers analyzed 400 million voter records from elections in 2014 and 2016 that showed those groups are less likely to vote than whites, older citizens and Republican supporters.

The study analyzed voter file data from analytics firm The Data Trust and combined registration lists from the 50 states to create a single 400 million voter record file spanning two election cycles; the presidential election of 2016 and a midterm election in 2014.

“We’re finding that the circumstances of other citizens who live around you plays an important role in voter turnout,” BYU professor and co-author of the study Michael Barber said. 

The study showed that in 2016, white citizens voted at a rate between 9 and 15 percentage points higher than Black citizens, Asian citizens and Hispanic citizens in the same election. The 2014 election results showed larger gaps, according to BYU News. Whites voted 9 to 18 percentage points higher than minority groups.

The gaps in voter turnout were not as significant by political party. Democrats were less likely to vote than Republicans both in 2014 and 2016. The data also showed that turnout among citizens who are 60 or older was 40 percentage points higher than citizens who are 30 or younger.

“Much of the country is segregated especially by race and partisanship. 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.

Co-author of the study John Holbein, former BYU professor and current professor at University of Virginia, agree with Barber that voter turnout differences are caused by social constructs within different communities. The authors found that both Black and Hispanic citizens, Democrats, and young people are more likely to live in “turnout deserts,” or places where the turnout of voters is lower than the national average.

“People tend to live around people who are like them. If racial minorities are less likely to vote and they live around other minorities, then the whole neighborhood is going to be less likely to vote,” Barber said.

Madison Selcho

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