Young voters helped carry Obama in key swing states

Eighty electoral votes depended on the youth vote, enough to swing the election in Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s favor, according to exit poll data analyzed by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

If Romney had captured half of the youth vote in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida, assuming it is called for Obama, he would be the next president, according to analysis provided by CIRCLE, a research group out of Tufts University.

Romney lost the election because he lost the youth vote in those battleground states, CIRCLE Director Peter Levine said in a conference call Wednesday.

CIRCLE focuses its research on youth issues and provides the only estimate of youth turnout available until the government issues its report in the spring.

Levine said the 49.3 percent youth turnout, which encompasses voters between 18 and 29 years old, was about 3 percent less than the “year of the youth vote” in 2008.

This number could increase to 51 percent as states finish counting their provisional and early ballots, Levine said.

There are 46 million youth voters in the U.S.

Levine said he was surprised by how many young voters appeared at the polls Tuesday.

“I thought turnout would be low, because I didn’t think campaigns were … targeting young people,” he said.

Youth turnout has steadily increased since the 1990s, peaking in 2008, Levine said.

“Candidates have to engage and pay attention to this demographic,” Levine said.

Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, an organization dedicated to empowering youth voters, also spoke in the conference call.

She said this generation of young voters is different because they care and understand their power to make a difference.

Youth represent 19 percent of the electorate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Younger people are having a much bigger impact,” Smith said. “This voter bloc can no longer be an afterthought.”

Obama won 60 percent of the youth vote on Tuesday compared to Romney’s 37 percent, according to exit poll data.

Republicans lost the youth vote because they did not target young people in the primaries, Smith said.

The issue young voters cared the most about was the economy, including continued college affordability and student loans, Smith said.

Young voters still believed in Obama’s message for change and were willing to give him more time to accomplish his goals, she said.

Kim Fridkin, interim director of the School of Politics and Global Studies, said the Republican Party will need to moderate its views on some social issues to attract the youth vote in the future.

“The election was a wake-up call for the Republican Party,” Fridkin said.

Obama’s message and views on abortion, gay marriage and contraceptives resonated with youth voters, she said.

“A lot of young voters are motivated by those issues,” Fridkin said.

If the Republican Party does not find a new way to make itself relevant, it risks losing out on support from minorities such as youth, Hispanics and women, she added.

The Obama campaign was effective in reaching out to young voters both this year and in 2008, Fridkin said.

“There was very efficient groundwork,” she said. “They (were) already registered. That’s half the battle.”

 

Reach the reporter at tnhoman@asu.edu