Allegheny College reported that student voting increased 10.5 percent in last year’s presidential election, rising to 71.5 percent in 2020 from a rate of 61 percent in 2016. Voter turnout among Allegheny students was higher than the average across private and public institutions, based on 2020 reports.
“Allegheny College can be proud of the work done by our students during a tremendously challenging time. Beginning in the fall of 2019, they collaborated with groups across campus to build a culture of civic participation,” said Brian Harward, Robert G. Seddig chair in political science and director of the Center for Political Participation at the college. “Then, when conditions shifted rather dramatically in the spring of 2020, they adapted and developed a creative and comprehensive approach to engage the campus and community and were wonderfully successful in doing so.”
Among many other efforts to encourage voter registration and turnout, Allegheny College established a central clearinghouse, named AC Votes 2020, for the college and community that offered resources, talks, activities, meetings and programming on three core dimensions: personal and community well-being, civic engagement and public health and safety.
Along with coordinating dozens of outreach sessions and overall communications efforts, student leaders designed an online form that enabled users to answer a few questions and derive from those answers the applicable state laws and deadlines for their voter registration. In fall 2020, student leaders also set up masked and distanced voter registration stations for new and returning students, and they held virtual voter registration drives and met with classes during the fall semester.
The report on college student voting was published by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE), creators of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, or NSLVE. IDHE is located at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life.
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 percent in last year’s presidential election. The 14 percentage point increase, from 52 percent turnout in the 2016 election, outpaces that of all Americans, which jumped 6 percentage points from 61 percent to 67 percent, 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,” said IDHE Director Nancy Thomas. “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.”