To read this content please select one of the options below:

Why do young adults vote at low rates? Implications for education

Matthew Knoester (Department of Education, University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana, USA)
Lisa Kretz (Philosophy Department, University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana, USA)

Social Studies Research and Practice

ISSN: 1933-5415

Article publication date: 11 September 2017




The purpose of this paper is to focus on the political attitudes, experiences, and habits of young adults in the USA, with particular focus on their voting habits. Since young adults are just beyond Kindergarten-12 (K-12) schooling they are the voting segment arguably most affected by this experience, and their political habits and attitudes inform educational policy and practice. The concern under focus is that studies have found that this group votes at low rates, especially during mid-term elections (just 22 percent of citizens ages 18-29 voted in the 2014 elections).


Relevant theoretical and empirical research on these topics were reviewed and interviews were conducted with 40 young adults. They were asked to reflect on their childhood, adolescent, and adult familial, social, and academic experiences; their voting habits throughout their lives; and their interpretations of factors that encouraged or discouraged their habits and dispositions toward citizenship.


The majority of participants reported that they did not vote in the 2014 mid-term elections and provided a range of reasons why they did not vote. Many participants also reported a reluctance to discuss politics with family members and friends.


Building on theories regarding the role of voter turnout for democracy and juxtaposing them with competing theories of neoliberalism and individualism, and in light of the struggles for suffrage and against voter suppression in the USA, this paper argues educators can take action to better prepare young adults for participation in electoral politics.



The authors would like to thank the authors’ research assistants, Alexandra Minton and Megan Moran, who were especially instrumental in the transcription of the authors’ interviews.

This research was funded by two grants based from the University of Evansville, an Alumni Research and Scholarly Activity Fellowship (ARSAF) and an Arts, Research, and Teaching (ART) grant.


Knoester, M. and Kretz, L. (2017), "Why do young adults vote at low rates? Implications for education", Social Studies Research and Practice, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 139-153.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles