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Youth voter registration up in California, but skewed geographically

October 3, 2012

Chart of voter rates

Voter registration among 18- to 24-year-old Californians increased between 2002 and 2010, but young voters remain underrepresented in California’s electorate and unevenly distributed across the state, according to a new University of California, Davis, study.  

The study will be released at 9 a.m. today during a panel discussion at the UC Center Sacramento.

Statewide, California gained 319,359 more registered young adult voters during the eight-year study period — a 25.6 percent increase. The increase was greater than for the general population, which saw a 13.7 percent increase.

However, just 49.4 percent of eligible young adults had registered to vote — well below the 77.5 percent rate for the electorate overall. An additional 890,000 young adults would need to register to vote to achieve parity with the statewide average recorded in the 2010 election, the study concluded.

The study also found that the Sacramento region and Bay Area had the highest concentrations of registered young voters, while some of the poorest areas of the state had the lowest.

“There has been tremendous growth in the size of the youth electorate, and this is the good news,” said Mindy Romero, a researcher at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change and author of the study. “But their registration numbers are still significantly lower than the general population, and it is clear that areas with the fewest resources for youth, such as jobs and educational opportunities, have the worst youth voter representation.”

The study is the second of a series of reports being released on election issues in coming months by the California Civic Engagement Project, a new nonpartisan data repository and research initiative of the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. The study uses data from the Statewide Database, the redistricting database for California.

Sacramento County had the highest rate of voter registration in the age group, with 54.2 percent registered to vote. In the Bay Area, 53 percent of eligible young adult voters had registered. The lowest rates were in the far north part of the state (39 percent), the San Diego area (43.7 percent) and the San Joaquin Valley (44.7 percent).

Los Angeles, San Diego and the north state had the widest gaps in registration rates between young adults and the general population. In the Los Angeles region, for example, 80 percent of all eligible voters were registered, versus less than 50 percent for young adults.

“In other words, youth in these regions have significantly less representation than the general population in these same regions. We wonder what is happening here. The youth are somehow getting lost in these regions, “ Romero said.

Los Angeles, the north state and the San Joaquin Valley have the highest poverty levels in the state, and some of the highest high school dropout rates and lowest college-going rates.

“Youth that have the most need have the smallest voice in the decisions that affect their lives and their communities,” Romero said.

The paper, “California’s Youth Vote: Strength and Potential,” is available at the UC Davis California Civic Engagement Project website.

Download a PDF map showing  2010 Voter Registration Rates for Youth in the State of California.  

Also, download a PDF with two charts for 2002-2010 Voter Registration Change: State of California and 2010 Voter Registration Rates for the general population and. youth in California.


About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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