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The eligible student voting rate increased by 17.7% at the University of Michigan between the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections, according to a study from the Tufts University Institute for Democracy and Higher Education.

The 2020 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement Campus Report, released in October 2021, looked at more than 1,100 college campuses and found an increase of 13% on average at all participating institutions. The University’s overall voting rate was 78.1% compared to a national institutional average of 66%.

The report also found the rate of U-M students who voted “not-in-person” was 81% for 2020, a 50% increase compared to the rate in 2016. The percentage of students who voted in-person on election day was only 15% in 2020, a decrease from 63% in 2016. 

Political science professor Ken Kollman said a variety of factors, including the controversial 2020 election, may have led to the increased voter rate at the University.

“It’s the confluence of a number of things,” Kollman said. “Trump himself is a mobilizer on both sides: People who were excited about him and then people who don’t like him and fear him. He brought out a lot of turnout … and it was on both sides. So there’s Trump, then there’s the fact that there was a special effort to mobilize college students.”

Age was another factor measured in the Tufts study. Seventy-five percent of Michigan students aged 18-21 voted in the 2020 presidential election, compared to 57% of students aged 22-24. These rates increased from 2016 by 18% and 15%, respectively. First-year students at the University had an 81% voting rate, while second-year students had a 70% voting rate and upper-level students had a 73% voting rate. 

Statistics on voting rates by race and ethnicity at the University were not included in the report from Tufts. 

Kollman highlighted the importance of mobilization in voter turnout.

“When you ask people to vote or start an effort at communicating with people a few days before or the day of the election, or you try to contact people, especially face-to-face, in-person contacts, you find that that does boost turnout, and it’s a pretty robust finding around the world,” Kollman said.

The University’s Ann Arbor campus was recently awarded Highest Voter Turnout in the Michigan Collegiate Voting Challenge for the 2020 election. The challenge is a bipartisan effort to increase voter participation on Michigan college campuses, 35 of which participated in the 2020 challenge. In a press release from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office, Benson congratulated the universities for their accomplishments with voter engagement. 

“I congratulate all the universities that participated in this historic and nonpartisan success,” Benson said in the press release. “By educating citizens on their voting rights and encouraging them to participate in our elections, they have strengthened our democracy.”

Majors and areas of study were recorded in the report, and a correlation between voting rates and students’ academic fields was discovered. In the Tufts report, students who studied communications and journalism were found to have a voting rate of 80%, the highest among University fields of study. Other fields with notably high rates include legal professions and psychology, both with voting rates of 77%. Students who studied mathematics and statistics had the lowest voting rate on campus at 35%. 

Reflecting on the political atmosphere leading up to the 2020 election, Michigan Law student Eve Hastings said the high voting rate among students of legal professions found in the study was understandable.

“So much of my education is centered around legislation that Congress passes or executive orders that the president passes, what the Supreme Court’s doing, how it’s affecting everything,” Hastings said. “And so a lot of that is tied up in who our elected officials are, and so it’s a really natural connection … you’re probably going to want to vote because you probably have an opinion about what those people are doing.”

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