New data shows local organizing drove historic 2020 youth voter turnout

Blog Post

50 years ago this week, Congress passed the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, sending it to the states for ratification. It guaranteed the right of everyone over 18 to vote. And while the promise of the amendment remains unfulfilled—young people continue to be underrepresented in our democracy—the 2020 election was a record-breaking success that saw youth turnout reach its highest level since 1972.

But the increase in turnout didn’t happen on its own. It happened thanks to the work of young people organizing their peers around the country, including 5,000 students who trained with the nonpartisan Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project to engage their campus communities and make 390,000 GOTV contacts leading up to the election.

Despite the fact all of this work was virtual, new data[1] is backing up the success of our approach to youth voter turnout:

  • 82% of the young people who the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project helped to register leading up to the 2020 election turned out to vote
  • 75% of the young people contacted through our peer-to-peer GOTV program turned out to vote

This compares to 68.5% of a representative sample of college students overall who were registered and voted in 2016.

It’s no surprise that long-term local organizing on college campuses contributed to the increase in turnout, and it’s one reason why we’re launching PIRG Campus Action clubs, an expansion of our organizing program on more than 60 campuses in 23 states and in Washington, D.C., including campuses where we ran our New Voters Project. At Brown University; Howard University; Florida A&M University; the Universities of Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin-Madison; Yale University; and many campuses in between, we’re helping students stay organized, mobilized and energized.

Highlighting Campus Turnout Increases

Read on to see how local organizing helped increase youth voter turnout in student-heavy precincts at campuses around the country.

University of Central Florida (Orange County, FL)
Turnout rate of registered voters increased from 95 percent in 2016 to 103 percent* in 2020

In Orange County, the New Voters Project organized a diverse group of University of Central Florida student groups to help students register to vote. The project partnered with UCF Greeks Vote, UCF College Democrats, UCF College Republicans and student government to make virtual club announcements and help reach hundreds of students to help them register to vote.

*This number accounts for the additional voters who changed their addresses and voted in this county on Election Day.
Florida State University (Leon County, FL)
Turnout rate of registered voters increased from 69 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2020

Students in Leon County from Florida State University organized a vote coalition effort, which included student government and the Center for Leadership and Social Change to reach every student on campus. Together, the coalition created a website (vote.fsu.edu), which was designed to be the one-stop shop for all the election information students need
Northern Arizona University (Coconino County, AZ)
Turnout rate of registered voters Increased from 59 percent in 2016 to 70 percent in 2020

Arizona PIRG Students partnered with Arizona Student Association, NAU Vote Coalition, and Student Government on GOTV efforts that reached every student on campus multiple times through all-campus emails and push notifications through their campus application, NAU GoApp. We also partnered with faculty to do more than 100 class announcements to help students register and make vote plans.
Eastern Michigan University (City of Ypsilanti, MI)
Turnout rate of registered voters increased from 55 percent in 2016 to 58 percent in 2020

With nearly 87% of the undergraduate population made up of Michigan natives, we focused a lot of our work at Eastern Michigan on educating voters about newly established vote-by-mail practices in Michigan. Partnering with Engage at EMU, the student civic engagement center on campus, Michigan NAACP Youth and College Division, and Student Government, we made StudentVote.org the primary tool to educate students about voting and help them register to vote.

We’re excited to continue our work on campuses around the country to engage the next generation of voters. To read more about our New Voters Project, visit our campaign page at NewVotersProject.org.

[1] Turnout data related to voter registrations and contacts were pulled from the State Voices VAN from the PIRG New Voters Project committee and associated state committees.

About The Student PIRGs
Students have the right and the responsibility to shape the future we will inherit. Our program spans over 100 campuses in 22 states of which 35 campuses have self-funding programs, that provide the training, professional support and resources students need to tackle climate change, protect public health, revitalize our democracy, feed the hungry and more. Students have been at the forefront of social change throughout history, from civil rights, to voting rights to protecting the environment. For almost 50 years we’ve helped our campus communities get organized, mobilized and energized so they can continue to be on the cutting edge of positive change. Every year, over 4,000 students gain hands-on experience in organizing and activism by volunteering with us to generate 150,000 grassroots actions.