Record student voter turnout in 2020 wins awards

CATEGORIES: November 2021, Voices

Iowa State students set a record for student voter turnout in 2020 with 72.9% of eligible students casting votes in the presidential election, an 11.1 percentage point increase over 2016. Nationwide, college students had a record-breaking year, with a 66% voter turnout rate, compared to about 50% for all 18- to 24-year-olds.

For its student voter success, Iowa State was awarded a Gold Seal by the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. Previously, the university was recognized with a Silver Seal for the 2016 election and a Gold Seal for the 2018 election. The university also received ALL IN’s 2021 Best Action Plan Award as a part of both their Iowa Campus Voting Challenge and Big 12 Voting Challenge.

“I am so proud of our Cyclone family and our allies in the League of Women Voters and the Story County Auditor’s Office. Their hard work made this possible,” said Catt Center director Karen Kedrowski, who was recognized by the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition for her civic engagement efforts.

The largest gains were among first-time voters, ages 18-21, with a 71% voter turnout rate and a 14 percentage point increase over 2016. Second-time voters, ages 22-24, increased by 13 percentage points to 65% voter turnout.

The historic gap between students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields and other majors narrowed, with no major having less than 50% voter turnout for the first time. Engineers’ voter turnout rate climbed to 63% (up 12 percentage points over 2016); biological and biomedical sciences students’ rate rose to 68% (up 10 percentage points over 2016); and natural resources and conservation students’ turnout increased to 79% (up 10 percentage points over 2016).

The subjects with the highest voter turnout continue to be in the humanities and social sciences, with area and gender studies leading the way with a 95% voter turnout, followed by social services (89%), and foreign language and linguistics (86%).

For the first time, Iowa State received breakdowns by race and ethnicity, and these results mirror national trends. Students who identify as white or multiracial had the highest levels of voter turnout (75% and 73% respectively), while Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Black students had lower rates (57% and 59% respectively). Also mirroring national trends, women voted at higher rates than men, with a 10-point gender gap between them.

These results will help student voting advocates to target messages to students in lower turnout groups for the 2022 midterm elections.

“I look forward to bringing Multicultural Student Affairs and other groups into our voting coalition,” said Kedrowski.

Results are provided by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), which matches voting records with student data from the National Student Clearing House. NSLVE is housed in the Institute for Democracy in Higher Education at Tufts University.