An Age Gap Emerges Among Early Voters

Turnout by younger voters lags in Florida

Analysis: Early Vote Team; writing by Jim Flood; editing by Karen Wickre

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Turnout by younger voters may be the key to a Biden victory, particularly in swing states like Florida. As a January 2019 Pew Research study reports, Generation Z and Millennials — the two youngest generations eligible to vote — tend to have views on the environment, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice that align more closely with Democrats than Republicans.

With early voting numbers breaking records across the country, the sheer number of Gen Z and Millennial voters has risen substantially from 2016 levels. But turnout among older voters has been even more robust.

The chart below, based on data from our Florida Early Vote Report, shows that Florida voters between the ages of 18 and 44 are punching below their weight in the early vote — effectively taking a back seat to older voters. The darker bars represent each age group’s share of the total voter universe; the grey bars, their share of the state’s early vote thus far. Voters aged 18–24, for example, are 8.36% of the state’s electorate, but only cast 5.99% of Florida’s early votes through October 30 (including absentee and early voting in person). Voters aged 60–85 have dominated the early vote: they make up 33.76% of the electorate, but cast 43.9% of the votes through October 30.

Age groups’ shares of the electorate and of early voters, in Florida

Data sources: Hawkfish Florida Early Vote Report, Florida Secretary of State. These calculations exclude voters Hawkfish has no age data for, who represent only 1.35% of the voter universe.

In an earlier post, we argued that college students from out of state who vote in swing-state college towns could help tip the election to Biden. Even in counties such as Alachua County, which has a younger-skewing population and is home to the University of Florida, the advantage for older voters persists. The three oldest age groups have cast disproportionately large shares of the early vote in Alachua County — especially the 60–85 cohort, which makes up 25.22% of the electorate but has cast 34.38% of the votes thus far.

In another post, we estimated that 20% turnout of all eligible (registered + those not yet registered at the time) Gen Z voters in Florida could flip the state to Biden. However, with early voting numbers going through the roof, it seems likely that the 2020 turnout will be higher than 2016’s across all age groups.

The good news for Biden’s campaign is that of the youngest voters who have voted, a disproportionate share have been Biden supporters, per our support scores, which measure the likelihood a voter will support Democratic candidates. Our model estimated that Joe Biden received 65.9% of the early votes through October 30th of voters aged 18–24 in Florida.

The table below shows the percentage of each generation’s voters that have already cast votes in Florida, based on Hawkfish modeling.

Florida turnout by age group

Data sources: Hawkfish Early Vote Report, Florida Secretary of State

So much is at stake in this election, especially for younger Americans. Right now, given their massive turnout, Baby Boomers and their fellow older voters have taken the lead in determining the future of the country. The best way for younger people to make sure their values are represented in our government is to show up and vote by or on Election Day.

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