Rutgers–New Brunswick Student Voting Rates Increased by 20 points in 2020 Election

Rate increase exceeds nationwide average amid COVID-19 pandemic

New Brunswick, N.J. (Jan. 21, 2022) — Despite changes to voter registration and voting processes, Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s student voting rate increased by 20 points from 2016 to 2020.

The increase was prompted by voter mobilization programs and campus-wide collaboration spearheaded by Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center for Youth Political Participation (CYPP).

According to the report “National Study for Learning Voting and Engagement,” Rutgers–New Brunswick’s student voting rate outpaced other comparable higher education institutions and the nationwide average. The student voting rate rose to nearly 73 percent in 2020, compared to 53 percent in 2016.

Rutgers—New Brunswick’s student voting registration rose to nearly 84 percent, up from 74 percent in 2016.

“The Eagleton Institute of Politics and its Center for Youth Political Participation are leaders in encouraging voting and political engagement among young people of all backgrounds, which is the backbone of a healthy democracy,” said Rutgers University–New Brunswick Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway.

In response to the state-by-state changes in voting for the 2020 election, CYPP expanded their RU Voting Rutgers program to a nationwide initiative, called RU Voting National, to equip students with state information about how to register to vote, how to vote by mail and how to find their polling locations.

Through the national program, CYPP helped those learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing timely election information and by helping students navigate changes to voting practices.

“Students faced unprecedented obstacles in registering to vote and getting to the polls for the 2020 presidential election due to the pandemic,” said Elizabeth C. Matto, an associate research professor and CYPP director. “The student voting data in New Brunswick – particularly the increase in voting rates by 20 points – illustrate that our students understood the importance of being engaged in our nation’s democratic process and that they remained motivated to participate in the election despite the state-by-state changes to voting processes.”

The data reflect the effect of the pandemic on the voting practices of Rutgers–New Brunswick students. Thirty-nine percent of them did not vote in person in 2020 (compared to 24 percent in 2016); 18 percent of students participated in early voting (compared to 8 percent in 2016); and only 18 percent of students voted in-person in 2020 (compared to 26 percent in 2016).

The report highlights the increase in voting rates among Rutgers–New Brunswick’s youngest students. The voting rate for students ages 18 to 21 increased by more than 20 points, from 45 percent in 2016 to 66 percent in 2020. Likewise, voting for 22- to 24-year-old students increased from 45 percent to 62 percent.

The report, Democracy Counts 2020, is based on an analysis of the voting patterns of more than 9 million college students on more than 1,051 campuses participating in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). Eagleton’s Center for Youth Political Participation at Rutgers University-New Brunswick is a partner in the NSLVE project.

The New Brunswick Civic Engagement Coalition, a campus-wide initiative to increase student voter registration and turn-out, was led by Rutgers’ Division of Student Affairs, RU Voting, and NJPIRG.

The report for Rutgers–New Brunswick data is available on CYPP’s website.

The data comes from the National Study for Learning Voting and Engagement conducted by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life.