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Younger voters

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Here’s a political statistic about Idaho I wouldn’t have guessed. Which doesn’t mean you can’t suss out what accounts for it.

It comes from the Tufts University (in Massachusetts) Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which has made a specialty of researching voting and other civic engagement by young people of voting age. In one study, the center (it’s acronym is the cutesy CIRCLE) looked into “Ages 18-19: Youth Voter Registration in September 2022 Compared to November 2018 – The difference (%) in the number of young people, ages 18-19, who were registered to vote in each state in September 2022 vs. in November 2018.”

There was some focus on the state of Kansas, where the Center noted, “Kansas is also one of only nine states where registrations among 18- and 19-year-olds have already surpassed November 2018: they are three percent higher. That represents a major increase from June, before the primary and the abortion vote [on whether to remove the state constitutional protection of an abortion right], when youth voter registrations among this age group in Kansas were 43 percent lower than in November 2018.”

Not hard to understand, given the very pro-choice result in the Kansas election.

That was striking. But guess what other states were included among the nine that already have surpassed their 2018 young voter registrations: a mixed bag of Alabama, Michigan, California, Illinois, Nevada … and Idaho.

But not only that. Idaho’s rate of increase was higher than any other state, not by a little but by a lot. Second-place Michigan, where (as was the case in Kansas) another abortion measure is on the ballot in November, chalked up an increase of 20 percent. But Idaho left everyone else in the dust: Its increase, good for a national first place, was rated at a 66 percent increase a few weeks ago compared to election day in 2018. Tufts called it “remarkable.” (An apples to apples increase in the election schedule, obviously, would show an increase even higher.)

The ranking of states is a little bit skewed, because in many states massive numbers of younger voters were registered in 2018 and 2020, which means fewer are available to register freshly this time. (Washington and Oregon, for example, probably rank lower in the list mostly for this reason.) Still, if the Tufts information is even ballpark correct, something interesting is happening in Idaho.

You imagine what some of the incentives might be.

The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on abortion created a political shock wave nationally, but some of the larger impacts may have happened in some of the states which quickly have moved to restrict abortion in its wake. Idaho would be a prime example of that, and many people still remember what happened in 1990 when the Idaho Legislature moved to make a sharp, drastic restriction on abortion. This isn’t 1990, but the immediate effects then – including a string of Democratic wins, which were followed by Republican silence on abortion for several years after – were clear and dramatic.

The education and culture wars, which have put colleges and universities and libraries on the defensive in Idaho, may be about due for a backlash, and a cadre of younger voters would be a likely place to see the reaction materialize – if it does.

We can’t really know that for sure, not until the election happens. But there was another important indicator here:

“CIRCLE data has shown that young people without a voting history are less likely to be contacted by campaigns. The fact that most states are behind in registering youth in this age group highlights that outreach is still lacking, and that there’s a need for organizations, schools, and campaigns to redouble their efforts to register the youngest potential voters,” the report said.

That means we might not know what the real impact is … until November.

 

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