Monday night’s debate among the Democratic candidates featured a format designed to appeal to younger voters, whose turnout rate in the last presidential election in 2004, increased by 12% from 2000 – the largest increase in any single age group. The gap between young and older voters, which had widened over the last few decades, narrowed to 20 points, with the increase in turnout particularly notable among young women and African Americans. Despite the uptick in voting among young people, this age group still lags behind older generations on basic measures of political engagement. In 2006, fewer than half (49%) of Gen Nexters (those ages 18-25) were certain that they were registered to vote. This compares with 70% of Gen Xers, 83% of Boomers, and 86% of Seniors. This pattern has remained consistent over the past decade, with only about half of the youngest age group saying they are registered, compared with a much higher percentage – roughly 75% to 80% – of older Americans. When asked how often they vote, young people also trail behind all other age groups. In the 2004 election cycle, nearly half of young people (47%) said they voted “seldom” or “never.” Compared with previous generations, regular voting is down slightly among Generation Nexters – just 37% said they always or nearly always voted in 2004. In the late 1980s, when many Generation Xers were in their late teens and early twenties, 44% of 18-25 year olds said they voted always or nearly always. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.