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Survey Overstates Oregon's Under-30 Voting Rate

Last week, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University released a survey showing that Oregon led the nation in voter turnout among voters under the age of 30. The Oregonian, The Portland Mercury and the Oregon Secretary of State's blog picked up on the result, highlighting what seemed to be good news.

Well, as it turns out, the university survey was merely that—a survey. It was not an analysis of actual ballots cast. As a result, the survey appears to overstate reality by about 55 percent. When you divide the number of ballots cast by Oregonians 18 to 29—146, 321, according the secretary of state's elections division—by the number of Oregonians who are that age—628,512, according to Portland State University's 2010 population count—the turnout in Oregon was 23 percent.

That's way less than the than 35.7 percent of young Oregonians who told researchers they voted. It also places Oregonians right around the national average that the Tufts survey found. Oregon is not first by a big margin.

Of course if Oregonians surveyed overstated their voting, there's a possibility that those surveyed in other states did as well. If that's the case, we still might be above average.

Peter Levine, who oversaw the Tufts survey said via email that there are a variety of possible explanations for the discrepancy including exaggeration on the part of respondents, inconsistent record keeping and a significant difference in the number of Oregonians 18-29 reported by PSU and the U.S. Census. But Levine says that by one measure that he trusts, Oregonians still come out on top.

"In general, I like apples-to-apples comparisons, like the Census voting survey that is asked the same way everywhere," Levine wrote. "According to that survey, young Oregonians voted at the nation's highest rate—although we don't know what their *actual* rate was."

Scott Moore, a spokesman for Our Oregon, one of three groups that focused on getting young voters to participate in elections last year—the other two are the Oregon Bus Project and the Oregon Student Association—agrees that the Tufts survey overstates reality. Our Oregon's calculation of actual voting corresponds with WW's.
But Moore contends that even if young voters wildly overstated how many of them actually filled out and mailed their ballots, the zeal they display in wanting others to think they voted shows the positive connotation that voting holds in this state, compared to other states such as Nebraska, where only about 14 percent of young voters told researchers they voted.

"The information Tufts gathered shows what people said they did, not what they actually did," Moore says. "But the numbers show that there's a social value in voting here, and that's a testament to the hard work that people do engaging young voters."