Youth vote turned out in 2012, despite enthusiasm concerns

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Despite predictions that the youth vote might not show as strongly in this cycle as it did in 2008, voters under 30 again turned out in large numbers for President Barack Obama.

“Tonight, young people proved yet again, that they are a powerful force in our country’s democracy. Their impact rivaled that of 2008; they showed up and played a major role in picking our President,” Rock the Vote president Heather Smith said in a statement on election night.

In 2008, the youth vote comprised 18 percent of the electorate, according to national exit polls. This cycle, according to exit polls reported by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), they comprised 19 percent of the electorate and went for Obama 60 percent to Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 36 percent. To be sure, the margin slipped somewhat from four years ago, when Obama won 66 percent of the youth vote to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 31 percent in 2008.

According to CIRCLE, at least 49 percent of young people voted, or between 22-23 million. In 2008 CIRCLE reported that at least 52 percent of young people turned out, or 23 million.

“Tonight’s results hopefully put an end to the accusation of a so called ‘enthusiasm gap.’ This proves that any campaign that ignores young voters does so at its own peril,” Smith added.

Prior to the election, there was speculation that sub-30 voters would not deliver at the polls as they did in 2008.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that a Pew poll taken at the end of September found that half of young voters knew whether they were registered to vote, compared to 61 percent during the same time frame in 2008 and 63 percent said they planned to vote, compared to 72 percent in 2008 — in later polls those numbers grew to 75 percent who said they planned to vote and 59 percent who knew they were registered.

“Youth engagement is probably going to be down a little bit from where it was four years ago, but I don’t think that it’s a certainty at this point, and mobilization makes a huge amount of difference with this population,” Scott Keeter, survey director for the Pew Research Center told CS Monitor.

The Obama campaign did work hard to bridge the apparent enthusiasm gap among the youth with celebrity endorsements, a big social media push and interviews in entertainment outlets, including a late-campaign MTV appearance.

According to CIRCLE, if Romney had won at least half the vote of the under-30s or young people had stayed home, he would have won the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and could have taken the election with those 80 electoral votes.

“Confounding almost all predictions, the youth vote held up in 2012 and yet again was the deciding factor in determining which candidate was elected President of the United States,” said CIRCLE director Peter Levine in a statement. “Young people are energized and committed voters. Youth turnout of around 50% is the ‘new normal’ for presidential elections. Considering that there are 46 million people between 18 and 29, this level of turnout makes them an essential political bloc. Right now, they form a key part of the Democrats’ national coalition. Republicans must find a way to compete for their votes.”

CIRLCE further reports that from 1976 to 2004, the average youth voter gap was about two percentage points between candidates.

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