UC Santa Cruz campus voting skyrocketed in 2020

UCSC was at the forefront of a nationwide jump in college-student voting, report finds

A sign with a Sammy the Slug cartoon encouraging students to vote
Efforts across campus have promoted democratic engagement and voting among UCSC students.

Student voting at UC Santa Cruz increased dramatically in last year’s presidential election, rising to about 79 percent in 2020 from a rate near 52 percent in 2016, according to data from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). 

The report, led by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) showed that student voting rates at UCSC were near the crest of a broader rising trend. Voting increased at college campuses across the U.S., but UCSC’s nearly 28 percentage point increase was about double the average rate of increase across more than 1,000 institutions. 

“I applaud our student leaders who worked so hard to register their peers and encourage voting,” Chancellor Cynthia Larive said. “UC Santa Cruz students are committed to creating real change, and that often begins in deciding who to elect as our state and federal representatives. It’s essential that everyone has the chance to make their voice heard on Election Day.”

While UCSC’s overall enrollments remained similar from 2016 to 2020, 4,523 more students voted in 2020. Among age groups, the biggest increase came from 18- to 21-year-old students. Notably, voting went up by at least more than 20 percent for UCSC students across every racial and ethnic background. Voting rates were also up among students in every field of study identified in the report. 

These impressive and cross-cutting gains reflect many campus efforts to promote democratic engagement and voting among all UCSC students. Among these, Elizabeth Beaumont, Associate Professor of Politics and Legal Studies—and coauthor of the books Educating for Democracy and Educating Citizens—forged a partnership with the national ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and began collaborating with Student Union Assembly leaders.  

In 2018, this sparked projects with SUA student leaders Jessica Xu (politics and economics ’18), Alice Malmberg (politics and feminist studies ’18), and Judith Gutierrez (politics ’18) to develop college-based voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote messages. In 2020, it led to projects with SUA representatives Soren Whiting (politics ’21) and Rojina Bozorgnia (politics and education ’23) to develop a new online voter registration guide and UCWeVOTE events.

Nationwide, the study’s authors report record-breaking findings. On campuses across the country, students built on the momentum swing of 2018 and voted at high rates, with a national average campus voter turnout jumping to 66 percent in last year’s 2020 presidential election. The campus-average 13 percentage point increase, from 53 percent turnout in the 2016 election, outpaces the general increase in American voting, which jumped 6 percentage points from 61 percent to 67 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

"I'm so delighted to see our students engaging directly in the democratic process,” said Katharyne Mitchell, dean of the Social Sciences Division. “Through their outreach and initiatives, they are maximizing voter participation and increasing civic engagement where it matters most. These are our transformative leaders, now and into the future.”