In the Throes of 2020, a Closer Look at America’s Voting-Age Population

by Ari Pinkus March 02, 2020

“To improve health and well-being, people need to participate in the democratic process on a local and national level. Strong election turnout indicates that individuals feel empowered to take action, are engaged with decision-making, and want to influence change,” so states the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in its culture of health work.

That number can vary a lot from election to election. In November 2016, voter turnout nationally was 55%. In November 2018, turnout was 50%, according to the United States Election Project. That’s high for a midterm.

And here’s one early sign of such engagement for November 2020, according to Gallup data: 64% of American adults said they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, according to the poll taken in October 2019, 13 months before the election. Typically just over half of Americans are enthused six months or more before a presidential election.

Breakdowns point to elevated enthusiasm across demographic slices, including age — now front and center in this campaign, from vetting the presidential candidates to analyzing the issues dividing boomers from millennials and gen z potential voters.

  • 61% of people ages 18 to 34 said they were more enthusiastic than usual about voting (34% said they were less enthusiastic);
  • 62% of those ages 35 to 54 said they were more enthusiastic (28% said they were less enthusiastic);
  • 66% of those ages 55 and over said they were more enthusiastic (25% said they were less enthusiastic).

Filtering Age and Geographic Groups Through the ACP

But one thing that’s clear in the American Communities Project data: Those voter segments are not evenly spread around the country. So with the 2020 election now eight months away, how does America’s voting-age population look through a dual lens of age and geography? To find out, the ACP has conducted a new analysis, beginning with the overall voting-age population county by county and in the ACP’s 15 community types, then zeroing in on potential young and senior voters county by county and in the 15 types. (Note voting eligibility laws vary by state. These requirements can be found at vote.org, a nonpartisan organization.)

Some Highlights

The urban centers are also youth centers. Young people stand out in Big Cities (47 diverse, segregated, stratified counties): 27% of people ages 18 to 29 dwell in cities. That’s just one part of the large leftward lean of these communities.

Graying America and Rural Middle America, both considered rural types, are senior hubs: 16% of people 62 and over live in one of these two kinds of communities. That age breakdown is an important part of these communities’ cultural conservatism.

Power of the Urban Suburbs (106 multicultural, well-educated, dense, monied counties around cities): 22% of the 18-and-over population live here; 21% of youth and senior cohorts live here. These percentages show a more balanced mix of younger and older voters than other places.

Rise of the Exurbs (222 counties on the fringe of metro areas scattered throughout the country, which can be dense or diffuse): 11% of the voting-age population live in the Exurbs, which have been a bastion for the GOP establishment; and 10% of youth and seniors live here, the third-highest community type for both groups.

The Battlegrounds

The turnout of different age groups in November is likely to play a large role in what happens in these communities and races. So far, the data indicate that 2020 will be a turnout election, driven more by bringing out supporters than by changing minds. Below is a look at some key 2020 battleground states, and the prominent county types in each:

Arizona: Graying America found across the state; Native American Lands in the west; a couple of Hispanic Centers on the border; and Maricopa County, the massive Big City county containing Phoenix, in the south-central part of the state.

Florida: A veritable potpourri of county types, including Graying America up and down the state; African American South counties along the panhandle; the Big City of Miami-Dade; Urban Suburbs, containing Tampa and also near Orlando and Miami; Exurbs and Military Posts in the north.

Georgia: Many African American South counties in the middle and lower tiers; Evangelical Hubs in the north and south; more than a dozen Exurbs on the fringe of Big City Fulton County, containing Atlanta.

Michigan: Graying America and Rural Middle America bordering the Great Lakes, Working Class Country in the southern tier; and Big City Wayne County, containing Detroit.

Minnesota: Rural Middle America on the top and bottom tiers; Working Class Country in the middle of the state; 10 Exurbs around Big City Hennepin County, containing Minneapolis.

North Carolina: African American South counties grouped in the eastern part of the state; Evangelical Hubs concentrated in the west, a handful of Military Posts in the south; and Wake County, a Big City county in the research triangle area.

Pennsylvania: Rural Middle America in much of the middle of the state; College Town Centre County, containing Penn State University; Urban Suburbs and Exurbs around Big City Philadelphia County; the Urban Suburbs of Allegheny County, containing Pittsburgh; and Middle Suburbs east and west outside the metro areas.

Wisconsin: Rural Middle America in the middle and lower sections, Graying America in the upper tier, and Working Class Country in the upper and middle portions.

Of the 53,683,256 people who make up the 18-to-29-year-old voting-age population, 26% (14,045,038) live in places that the American Communities Project classifies as rural: the African American South, Aging Farmlands, Evangelical Hubs, Graying America, Hispanic Centers, LDS Enclaves, Native American Lands, Rural Middle America, and Working Class Country.

Of the 60,628,688 people who make up the 62-and-over voting-age population, 33% (20,077,954) are located in the nine rural community types. This is a significant departure from the 18-to-29-year-old grouping, and further highlights the age and place divisions in this election season.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

Learn More