Report: New Voters Project

The Voting Intentions and Opinions of Students

A Survey on What Keeps Some Students from Voting, and What Universities Can Do to Encourage Student Participation in Elections
Released by: CALPIRG Education Fund

Why We Need to Engage More Students 

Young voters have the most at stake with regards to many of the policy decisions of our government. Decisions on issues like the size of our debt, housing, our transportation and water infrastructure, and our environment will have impacts that will last for decades. 

Students are younger and more ethnically and economically diverse than the state’s traditional electorate.iii Additionally, young voter participation has proven to increase turnout in the entire household, particularly in immigrant communities.iv 

Voting is also habit forming, and individuals who vote early on are more likely to become lifelong voters.v 

CALPIRG’s New Voters’ Project 

CALPIRG’s New Voters Project is a nonpartisan effort to help register young people and get them to the polls on Election Day. We believe that the full participation of young people in the political process is essential to a truly representative, vibrant democracy. We do not endorse any candidate or party and we do not take a stand on any legislation. Our job is to get young people to the polls. 

We’ve been doing this work for a long time. In 1983, the PIRGs launched the National Student Campaign for Voter Registration, the nation's first major youth mobilization effort since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972. This initial effort helped register nearly one million students to vote throughout the 1980s. In 1994, working with Rock the Vote, Campus Green Vote, and Green Corps, the PIRGs launched the Youth Vote Coalition. The coalition eventually grew to include more than 100 organizations, helped to register well over a million voters through the participating organizations, and helped to ensure coordination and collaboration within the youth civic engagement community. The Student PIRGs then used the expertise gained through these efforts to launch the New Voters Project, which has helped to register more than 600,000 young voters and made 650,000 GOTV contacts since 2003. 

CALPIRG Student Survey 

This spring, CALPIRG’s New Voters’ Project conducted an informal survey of just over a thousand UC, CSU, and community college students, before the June primary. We asked students about their own voting history and intentions, what they thought motivates them and their peers to participate in elections, and what they thought colleges and universities could do to encourage student participation. 

The survey questions were written to inform our own outreach plans for our non-partisan civic engagement program. The responses also help to reinforce best practices for institutions of higher learning, community groups, and elected officials who want to better engage California’s students in the democratic process. 

Who We Surveyed 

CALPIRG conducted our informal survey by sending out an online request to about 80,000 students on our own email list. We also had volunteers gathering in-person survey responses from students at UC, CSU, and community colleges. 

We gathered a total of 1,057 responses. 30 percent of the surveys came from our online outreach and 70 percent came from in-person outreach. 53 percent of respondents were enrolled at one of the UCs, 39 percent were enrolled in a California community college, 5 percent were enrolled in a Cal State, and 3 percent were from other schools. 

Related issues

New Voters Project