Making their voices heard: 2020 election sees increase in student voting

Student points to an I Voted sticker on a flag face maskThe percentage of Linfield University students voting in last year’s presidential election, significantly rose to 76.8% in 2020 from a rate of 62.8% in 2016. A report from the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE), creators of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, analyzed institutional data from Linfield and nearly 1,200 colleges and universities across the country. Linfield saw increases in both the percentage of voting-eligible students who registered to vote, as well as the voting rate of registered students.

“We are proud that so many of our students were active citizens in the 2020 election,” Dean of Students Jeff Mackay said. “Linfield is a place where students are encouraged to participate in their community and engage in thoughtful and respectful discourse. Our student leaders in the Associated Students of Linfield University really embraced this last fall and called on their peers to have their voice heard during the election. Kudos to them, and to all our students, for registering to vote and for voting in such high numbers.”

Nationwide, the study’s authors report a record-breaking set of findings. On campuses across the country, students built on the momentum swing of 2018 and voted at high rates in the 2020 election, with voter turnout jumping to 66% in last year’s presidential election. The 14 percentage point increase, from 52% turnout in the 2016 election, outpaces that of all Americans, which jumped 6 percentage points from 61% to 67%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“That students, often younger and first-time voters, turned out at rates commensurate with the general public is nothing short of stunning,” IDHE Director Nancy Thomas said. “We attribute this high level of participation to many factors, including student activism on issues such as racial injustice, global climate change and voter suppression, as well as increased efforts by educators to reach students and connect them to the issues and to voting resources.”

IDHE’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE, pronounced n-solve) is the nation’s largest study of college and university student voting. Institutions must opt-in to the study, and at this time, nearly 1,200 campuses of all types—community colleges, research universities, minority-serving and women’s colleges, state universities, and private institutions—participate. The dataset reflects all 50 states and the District of Columbia and includes 49 of the nation’s 50 flagship schools. IDHE uses de-identified student records to ensure student privacy. The 2020 dataset is robust with 8,880,700 voting-eligible students representing 1,051 colleges and universities.