Voter Participation Among Allegheny College Students up in 2020

Turnout among Allegheny students higher than average across private and public institutions

Allegheny College reported that student voting increased 10.5% in last year’s presidential election, rising to 71.5% in 2020 from a rate of 61% 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 Allegheny 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.”

Students at a voter information table in November 2020Among 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% in last year’s presidential election. The 14 percentage point increase, from 52% turnout in the 2016 election, outpaces that of all Americans, which jumped 6 percentage points from 61% to 67%, 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.”

IDHE’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE, pronounced n-solve) is the nation’s largest study of college and university student voting. Institutions must opt-in to the study, and at this time, nearly 1,200 campuses of all types — community colleges, research universities, minority-serving and women’s colleges, state universities, and private institutions — participate. 

The dataset reflects all 50 states and the District of Columbia and includes 49 of the nation’s 50 flagship schools. IDHE uses de-identified student records to ensure student privacy. The 2020 dataset is robust with 8,880,700 voting-eligible students representing 1,051 colleges and universities.

About Allegheny College

Allegheny College, founded in 1815, is one of the nation’s oldest and most innovative four-year colleges where multidisciplinary learning breaks the conventional mold.

It is one of the few colleges in the United States with a unique requirement to choose both a major and minor for graduation, to provide students with a cross-disciplinary path in the sciences and humanities for educational depth and intellectual growth.

Located in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Allegheny College is one of 40 colleges featured in Loren Pope’s “Colleges That Change Lives.” In its 2022 rankings, U.S. News & World Report recognized Allegheny College in its Top 20 Schools for Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects and the Top 25 Most Innovative National Liberal Arts Colleges.