Youth Vote Propels Obama to Second Term

By Caralee J. Adams — November 07, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

President Obama has young people to thank once again for helping elect him. He received the support of 60 percent of voters ages 18 to 29, while Gov. Romney received just 37 percent from that group.

Despite concern of a light turnout among young people, at least 49 percent of Americans younger than 30 voted in Tuesday’s presidential election—about the same share that participated in 2008, according to estimates released today by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a youth research organization at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Between 22 million and 23 million young people cast votes on Tuesday.

In 2008, Obama got 66 percent of the youth vote, according to the Pew Research Center.

The youth vote proved to be key in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, where if young people hadn’t turned out or Romney had won half the youth vote, the election would have gone the other way, said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, in a press call this afternoon.

Voters younger than 30 represented 19 percent of those who cast ballots yesterday, about 1 percent more than in the last presidential cycle. Since 2008, 17 million new voters became eligible, bringing the potential youth voting bloc to 46 million.

Youth turnout of about 50 percent is the “new normal,” said Levine. In 1996, just 37 percent of voters in that age group turned out for the presidential election. In 2000, about 41 percent participated, and in 2004, it was 48 percent.

Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, the national organization that promotes youth engagement in politics, said youth enthusiasm surged in the 2008 election when candidates reached out to young people, and there were massive voter-registration efforts. “They were targeted, spoken to, and engaged,” she said.

While young people were volunteering in record numbers in this campaign, expectations of youth turnout were tempered, said Smith. This was, in part, because the Republican primary didn’t excite and engage young people as much as the Democratic primary did four years earlier, she said. And without young people paying attention to the election until the fall, there was less time to motivate voters, she said.

Polling shows the economy was the most important issue to young voters. They are concerned about college affordability and student debt, but Levine noted that nearly 40 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 did not go on to higher education.

Young people still lag in participation compared with the overall electorate, which is about 60 percent of the nation’s adults. Smith says Rock the Vote plans to continue to push for reforms to the system, such as same-day registration, online registration, and early voting, to get more young people engaged.

CIRCLE’s estimate puts the youth voter turnout at 49.3 percent, with 97 percent of precincts nationwide reporting. That number could go up to 51 percent once all the data are gathered, said Levine. At the same time in 2008, the youth turnout stood at 48.3 percent, but was readjusted to 52 percent in the end.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.