Closing the Turnout Gap in the Midterms and Beyond

In the past year, VPC and CVI commissioned a team of social science researchers to size the gaps and opportunities in voter turnout and registration of the New American Majority, which includes people of color, young people, and unmarried women. The research team included Professor Bernard L. Fraga, Professor Zachary Peskowitz, and Caitlin Gilbert. They have provided impressive data and analysis underscoring the importance of VPC and CVI’s work to engage the New American Majority (NAM) in democracy in equal proportion to their presence in society through voter registration, mobilization, and education.  

These data and the research improve our understanding of three critical dimensions:

  1. Locating where NAM voting eligible populations are largest, and where they are growing most.  Fraga and team’s work reveals population trends and forecasts at the state and county-level from 2010 to 2030 for the New American Majority and sub-groups using census data.
  2. Providing estimates of voter turnout and gaps compared to non-NAM groups.  The researchers’ work examines turnout by race and age over the past decade at the state level.  It is a robust analysis that not only includes the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), but also combines census population estimates with voter file data.
  3. Highlighting registration opportunities for the NAM.  Along with turnout, this research allows for understanding states with low relative registration by age and race.  

This memo highlights key findings from Fraga, Peskowitz, and Gilbert’s study and VPC and CVI’s review of their data, including trends and facts about NAM population and turnout.1In addition to Fraga and his colleagues, special thanks to colleagues from VPC/CVI:  Yi Wu for his skilled analysis and data work that made this possible and John Malloy for expert guidance on voter file data.  Additionally, while Fraga and team’s work critically shaped our learnings, mistakes of inference or fact here are VPC/CVI’s alone.  Please note that some of the figures have been updated since Fraga and team’s report.  These differences are not substantive, and this memo and the accompanying data have the most up-to-date figures. It also highlights metrics to identify opportunities to support NAM turnout and registration across states, and it is accompanied by a spreadsheet to enable further analysis.  

Key Findings Include:

  • NAM share of potential voters is sizable everywhere, over half the citizen voting-age population in 39 states and D.C., and no less than 40% in the rest.  Continued growth in many states in the years ahead will add to these numbers.  
  • The share of NAM in some counties is very large, and some counties also show especially high growth rates, making geographic targeting efforts especially effective to boosting electoral representation.
  • Unfortunately, analysis of voter file and census figures indicates bigger turnout gaps between the NAM and non-NAM than previously thought, making VPC and CVI’s missions, along with the work of allied organizations, more important than ever.
  • Additionally, while NAM turnout has increased in recent elections, sometimes dramatically, generally non-NAM turnout has increased as much or more in recent elections.  Unfortunately, higher turnout does not necessarily equal greater representation.
  • A promising exception to these voting turnout trends is Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and young people’s turnout, which has increased markedly over the past few elections, increasing their representation in the electorate.
  • While some states offer greater opportunities, in all states NAM are underrepresented in ways that should greatly concern advocates of democracy.  Efforts to boost electoral representation are needed in all states, even those more supportive of voting in policies and processes.
  • The biggest opportunities within a state to increase NAM electoral representation varies.  In some states, NAM gaps in turnout are largest among people of color, while in others young people’s turnout shows larger opportunities.  Additionally, while registration opportunities correlate with turnout gaps at the state-level, some states show voter registration to be a unique challenge.
  • Five states–Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas– show especially high opportunity on all dimensions of NAM turnout and registration efforts given sizable NAM population share and large gaps in turnout and registration across both age and race and ethnicity.

Democracy works best when those who participate reflect the population as a whole.  As this work underscores, the NAM are underrepresented in the share of Americans2It is also vital to note that these demographic categories are broad and have a tremendous diversity of individuals within them, including identities, views, and socioeconomic factors impacting their lives.  A full understanding of these trends and efforts to boost representation requires deeper analysis, and it is important to recognize the strong limits of this kind of demographic analysis in terms of what it reveals.  The reliance on these large categories reflects their social meaningfulness in politics and policy as well as the confidence we can place in the empirical findings given available modeling and data.  who cast ballots but make up the strong majority of Americans.  This project not only illuminates the challenge in detail, but it provides a resource for those who share VPC and CVI’s critical mission of increasing NAM electoral representation.