SAN FRANCISCO, September 9, 2020—Key findings from a new Common Sense/SurveyMonkey poll that looks at civic engagement by age in America raises questions about whether young adults' increased enthusiasm for voting will translate to votes in the upcoming election. The findings reveal that Americans are deeply skeptical that their votes will be fairly counted and young adults in particular are least likely to be confident about knowing how to participate in the 2020 election.
Only 23% of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are "very confident" their vote will be counted fairly. But despite questions about fairness, interest in voting is increasing, with nearly half of young Americans age 18 to 29 (47%) saying their interest in voting in the 2020 election has increased in the past six months, similar to the 48% average among all adults. Among those young adults who are not registered to vote today or are unsure whether they are, 46% plan to register or confirm registration before the election.
Potential voters of different age groups have varying levels of confidence on a range of topics, from knowing where to vote to finding unbiased information about issues and candidates. Only half (50%) of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are "very confident" they know where to vote, whether in person or by mail, compared with 64% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 78% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 84% of those 65 and older. Only about a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are "very confident" about where to get unbiased information on the issues (24%) and candidates (25%)—though both of those percentages rise to about four in 10 among those 65 and older.
"Young adults have been more active and engaged in the political process than ever before. But will they vote? Will their social activism carry over to the ballot box? These survey results could be indicators of what's to come in November," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "It has become increasingly more difficult to sort through the misinformation that spreads on social media, and this data further supports the need to create tools and resources that will inform young voters and first-time voters with the facts."
Income, race, and ethnicity also are key drivers that contribute to disparities in the level of confidence voters exhibit in civic and political engagement. Across the board, adults of voting age in the U.S. with higher incomes show increased levels of confidence in getting unbiased information, in knowing where to vote, and that their vote will be counted fairly.
When compared to other groups, White Americans and those who earn higher annual incomes reported higher levels of confidence in knowing how to participate in the democratic process at its most basic level. The percentage of White young adults (54%) age 18 to 29 who are "very confident" they know where to vote, whether in person or by mail, is 10 percentage points higher than that of Black young adults (44%) of the same age (48% among Hispanic young adults, and 41% among young adults of other races/ethnicities).
For those age 18 to 29, over three in 10 in the highest household income bracket are "very confident" in getting unbiased information about candidates (37%) and issues (32%) compared to the middle income bracket (25% and 27%) and the lowest income bracket (22% and 21%). Moreover, across all age groups it is those in the highest household income brackets who make up the greatest shares of those "very confident," and yet that number is still far below a majority.
"The data makes it clear that voters are hungry for more information about candidates, policies, and voting procedures they can confidently trust," says Erin Pinkus, research scientist at SurveyMonkey. "With the most-watched election of our lifetimes fast-approaching, we hope that these findings are a wake-up call for organizations that can help individuals sort the news from the noise."
This survey follows up on a report released earlier this year by Common Sense that focused on how teens get their news, how much they trust different news sources, and more. In response, Common Sense launched the Young Voter's Guide to Social Media and the News to help give all voters, and especially young voters, the resources and tools necessary to separate fact from fiction and make sense of election news and social media coverage. The guide has essential information about identifying credible sources and diverse perspectives so young voters and soon-to-be voters can build their own informed viewpoints.
The guide also provides the Common Sense 2020 Social Media Voter Scorecard, which shows how the top social platforms are addressing the integrity of election-related posts. The scorecard looks at how they are fact-checking and flagging or demoting misleading information; and whether or not they are removing content around hate speech or voter suppression. The guide gives voters tips on navigating the flood of videos, memes, and hashtags to get the most out of social media this election season.
This latest survey is part of a Common Sense partnership with SurveyMonkey to examine media and technology trends affecting kids and their parents and to share actionable data and insights with families.
Americans are deeply skeptical that their votes will be fairly counted. Only 23% of 18- to 29-year-olds, and 29% of all adults overall, said they are "very confident" their vote will be counted fairly.
Despite questions about fairness, interest in voting among young adults is increasing. Nearly half of young Americans age 18 to 29 (47%) say their interest in voting in the 2020 election has increased in the past six months, similar to the 48% average among all adults. Among those young adults who are not registered to vote today or are unsure whether they are, 46% plan to register or confirm registration before the election.
Young adults are less likely than older adults to feel very confident in knowing how to participate in the 2020 election. Only half (50%) of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are "very confident" they know where to vote, whether in person or by mail, compared with 64% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 78% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 84% of those 65 and older.
Young White people are more likely than young members of other racial/ethnic groups to be "very confident" in knowing where to vote. Fifty-four percent of White people age 18 to 29 are "very confident" they know where to vote, whether in person or by mail, compared to 44% of Black people, 48% of Hispanic people, and 41% of people of other races/ethnicities.
Young adults are more likely than older adults to say they've taken action on issues related to racial justice/civil rights. Among young adults age 18 to 29, 38% say they have taken action in the past six months, compared to 23% of adults 30 or older, a 15-percentage-point difference.
Young adults say they have a hard time finding unbiased information about issues and candidates. Only about a quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are "very confident" about where to get unbiased information about issues (24%) and candidates (25%)—though both of those percentages rise to be about four in 10 among those 65 and older.
Political ads are common on social media, and many Americans across all age groups are exposed to them. About half (45%) of Americans of all ages have seen them in the last six months.
Younger Americans are more likely to protest and participate in activism on social media; older adults are more likely to vote and donate money. Adults age 18 to 29 are more likely to protest or demonstrate (19% of 18- to 29-years-olds, compared to 10% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 9% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 8% of people over 65) and to use hashtags related to political or social causes than older adults (28% of 18- to 29-year-olds, compared to 19% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 13% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 9% of adults 65 and older). Older Americans were much more likely to vote in the last year (56% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 71% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 81% of adults 65 and older, compared to 38% of 18- to 29-year-olds) or donate money to a candidate or campaign (29% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 40% of adults 65 and older, compared to 16% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 18% of 30- to 49-year-olds).
Methodology: This SurveyMonkey poll was conducted online August 13 to 20, 2020, among a total sample of 6,132 adults age 18 and over living in the United States. Respondents for these surveys were selected from more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Data has been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.
SurveyMonkey is a leader in agile software solutions for customer experience, market research, and survey feedback. The company's platform empowers over 17 million active users to analyze and act on feedback from employees, customers, website and app users, and market research respondents. SurveyMonkey's products, enterprise solutions, and integrations enable more than 335,000 organizations to deliver better customer experiences, increase employee retention, and unlock growth and innovation. Ultimately, SurveyMonkey's vision is to raise the bar for human experiences by amplifying individual voices.
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