Youth voter turnout rising, could be key in close NC races

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Owen Ryerson knows what’s at stake in this election. His goal is to make sure other young people like him see that, too, and turn out to vote.  

“We know that getting out young voters, especially here in North Carolina, is so critical for this election,” he said. 

Ryerson has been working with Sunrise Movement, which has focused on states like North Carolina as they aim to drive turnout among young voters. The group has backed Democratic candidates as it works to confront climate change.  

“North Carolina is one of the top three states where the youth vote can have the biggest impact,” he said. 

As one of the key battlegrounds in the 2020 election, North Carolina could see several close statewide races once again this year. Polling has shown the presidential and U.S. Senate races to be within the margin of error.  

In the Tar Heel state and across the country, data is showing a surge in turnout among younger voters.  

Simon Rosenberg is a consultant for Clean and Prosperous America and has analyzed youth voter trends for more than a decade. 

He noted that voters 18 to 39 in North Carolina account for 25.2 percent of those who are voting early. At this point in 2016, they accounted for 24.3 percent of the vote share.

Nationally, that age group accounts for 23.5 percent of early voters. Click here to view more. 

“All these young people voting early meant that they could put peer pressure on their friends through social media,” Rosenberg said.  

Andy Jackson, an elections policy analyst at the conservative Civitas Institute, noted turnout and interest in voting are up among a wide range of demographics, but said participation among young people is “disproportionately higher” in this election. 

“It’s probably a slight, ever so slight, advantage to the Democrats,” he said. “In the end, it’s not going to be a huge number. But, it may be worth a few thousand votes statewide on the Democratic side.” 

He mentioned the 2016 election in North Carolina, in which Gov. Roy Cooper (D) defeated former Gov. Pat McCrory (R) by about 10,000 votes. It was among several close statewide races that year. 

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted earlier this month found voters aged 18-29 in North Carolina prefer former Vice President Joe Biden over President Donald Trump by a margin of 62-29.  

Rosenberg noted the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created in mobilizing people to vote.

College students particularly faced issues in determining where to register to vote, as some schools suspended in-person classes and told students to move off-campus amid COVID-19 outbreaks.  

“It makes the turnout that we’re seeing even that much more incredible, frankly. Young people clearly leaped over enormous barriers to participate,” Rosenberg said.  

A survey released this week by Harvard University found 63 percent of voters ages 18-24 said they will “definitely be voting,” which is higher than the 47 percent who said that in 2016. In 2008, 63 percent of voters in that age group also said they definitely would vote.  

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