Government and International Relations Honors Papers

Document Type

Honors Paper


Mara Suttman-Lea

Publication Date



Following the passage of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years of age after a nearly three decades long fight for youth enfranchisement. However, once they were given the right to vote, young people turned out to vote at rates far below those of other age groups in 1972 and have remained persistently lower to the current day. This has left political operatives and scientists wondering why young people appear to be so separated from the electoral process. While many scholars have concluded that youth voters do not participate in elections because they are disinterested in politics, this thesis contradicts these verdicts. Instead, it finds that young people are interested in participating in politics, but face disproportionate barriers to electoral participation. While it is found that presidential campaign activity between 1996 and 2016 has no significant impact on youth voter registration and turnout, it is discovered that national party spending does have an influence over young voters’ registration and turnout. Specifically, when the Democratic National Committee spends more money than the Republican National Committee, youth voter registration and turnout are significantly increased. As such, this study exemplifies how youth voters, when coaxed into it, are interested in participating in the electoral process. This study showcases that although they continue to be ignored by political operatives, young people are an untapped voting bloc that has the capacity to influence electoral outcomes.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.