Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Schraufnagel, Scot D.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


United States--Politics and government; Political science; Young adults--Political activity--United States; Political participation--United States; Voter turnout--United States; Campaign funds--United States


Since Converse's work in 1971, political scientists have noted the abysmal level of participation by young Americans on Election Day. One possible reason for the negative comments by academics is their assumption that young people will react to socio-political and economic contexts in the same manner as other segments of the voting population. A second possible explanation for the negative reports is that not all relevant variables, which explain deviation in youth mobilization levels, have been uncovered. The research reported herein explores potential American voters between the ages of 18 to 24 with an eye toward uncovering unique explanations for their lower levels of mobilization and possible new variables that others have failed to consider. Specifically, the research demonstrates three ways in which younger voters are different from the voting population 25 years of age and older. For instance, it is widely recognized that economic hardship can influence democratic participation rates, this research uncovers evidence to suggest a traditional definition of unemployment is not the best measure for capturing the "economic hardship" of young Americans. With a new measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged workers and the underemployed, I learn that the youngest age group is mobilized to vote. Older individuals, on the other hand, continue to associate with lower participation rates when economic hardship is higher. Second, the research uncovers the overall detrimental effects of state laws which raise the relative costs of voting. The research develops a wholly new Cost of Voting Index (COVI) to capture these effects. Surprisingly, it does not appear that the COVI places any additional burden on young Americans, but it is clear that everyone participates less when the costs of voting increase. Third, using a classic experimental research design, and in-depth analyses of a dozen real world elections, I uncover evidence in support of a previous unconsidered variable. Explicitly, I learn that the age of candidates running for public office is a sufficient condition to mobilize youth to cast a ballot on Election Day.


Advisors: Scot Schraufnagel.||Committee members: April K. Clark; Mitch Pickerill.


207 pages




Northern Illinois University

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