Making Young Voters: Policy Reforms to Increase Youth Turnout (2018-2019)


Low levels of voter turnout among young people may not reflect a lack of civic-mindedness, but rather may be the consequence of a combination of institutional and motivational obstacles that get in the way of people participating in politics. In order to address these obstacles, researchers and policymakers from multiple fields must evaluate the effects of policy reforms that seek to reduce or eliminate the problem of low youth turnout from two complementary directions—one within the education system and one related to election administration.

In the education realm, this begins with a reconsideration of the nature and content of civic education. Whereas standard civics courses focus on a test-centric curriculum that teaches facts and knowledge about government, effective civic education must develop and reinforce relevant noncognitive skills—the general abilities associated with self-regulation and social integration that are not captured by standard measures of cognitive proficiency (i.e., standardized tests). Noncognitive skills, especially the general ability to follow through on one’s goals, can predict future political participation above and beyond well-known predictors like political interest, cognitive ability, parental involvement and socioeconomic status.

As a complement to uncovering what skills prompt young citizens to follow through, there must also be a reevaluation of election policies and institutional practices that create barriers or obstacles to voting. This includes evaluating institutional reforms, such as early voting, and legislation, such as preregistration.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will explore and evaluate the potential education and electoral policies necessary to promote youth civic engagement.

Building on the work of the 2017-18 team, the 2018-19 team will analyze civic education through a comprehensive evaluation of its downstream effects on youth turnout by leveraging longitudinal student surveys, school administrative records and voter registration files, and by testing the effects of voter registration and mobilization interventions developed by the team.

Additionally, the team will evaluate a broad set of policy reforms, developing a framework for understanding why some electoral reforms work to mobilize young citizens, while others fall short. This will help reconcile often-conflicting results in the growing election sciences literature.

Team members will use a variety of statistical methods to gather and analyze data, including regression discontinuity models, difference-in-difference models, sibling and twin pairs, various fixed effect strategies and best practices for designing randomized-control survey experiments. Qualitative interviews and descriptive analyses will complement quantitative analysis to address many of the project’s motivating questions. This combination of data sources and methodologies will provide a comprehensive look at the electoral and educational policies that influence youth voter turnout. This will help the team answer questions that can fundamentally reshape how we think about what drives voting and how electoral reforms, school practices and public policies, more generally, encourage young people to vote.

The team will continue a partnership with the Wake County Public School System, which includes annual surveys of students; contribute to a nationwide database of electoral and civics education policies in all states; survey and interview teachers to understand school-level efforts to increase civic participation; and develop and implement an intervention aimed at mobilizing young voters in 2018.

Anticipated Outcomes

Research publications, reports for project’s community partners, archived original datasets on state electoral and educational policies, conference presentations


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: Analyze Wake County Public School System survey results from waves 1, 2 and 3; analyze NC teacher survey; analyze voter registration experiment from Spring 2018; finalize experimental interventions for 2018 election
  • Fall 2018: Design and field an election survey; conduct randomized experiment designed to increase youth voter turnout; present results at American Political Science Association Meeting in September and Southern Association of Public Opinion Research in October
  • Spring 2019: Analyze survey and experimental results; merge results with voter files to evaluate voter turnout in 2018 election; present results at American Association of Public Opinion Researchers in May

Team Outcomes to Date

Making Young Voters: Policy Reforms to Increase Youth Voter Turnout (poster by Noah Eckberg, Carlee Goldberg, Sakiko Nishida, Ketan Gupta, Emily Ahlers, Lindsay Campbell, Eli Weed, Matthew Mizota, presented at EHDx, Duke University, April 9, 2019 and at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)

How to Cure Political Polarization (talk by Rose Graves and JJ Moncus, EHDx, Duke University, April 9, 2019)

This Team in the News

POLIS at Duke: Episode 1.19 — Sarah Ali ’20

Why So Many Young People Don’t Vote

Why Don't More Young People Vote?

See related teams, Developing the Political Citizen: Uncovering the Origins of Political Attitudes and Opinions (2019-2020) and Making Young Voters: Policy Reforms to Increase Youth Turnout (2017-2018).

Youth voting graphic

Team Leaders

  • Kyle Endres, Social Science Research Institute
  • Sunshine Hillygus, Arts & Sciences-Political Science

/graduate Team Members

  • Hannah Bartlebaugh, Masters of Public Policy
  • Edgar Cook II, Political Science-PHD
  • Brian Guay, Political Science-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Emily Ahlers, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Lindsay Campbell, GCS in Literature Program (AB), Political Science (AB2)
  • Samuel Ditesheim, Public Policy Studies (AB), Political Science (AB2)
  • Noah Eckberg, Political Science (AB)
  • Weed Eli, Political Science (AB), French Studies (AB2)
  • Ryan Geitner, Political Science (AB), Asian & Mid East Studies (AB2)
  • Carlee Goldberg
  • Ketan Gupta, Political Science (AB)
  • Matthew Mizota, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Sakiko Nishida, Public Policy Studies (AB), Political Science (AB2)
  • Anshul Shah, Computer Science (BS), Statistical Science (BS2)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Wake County Public School System