One of the key factors apparently responsible for the re-election of U.S. president Barack Obama last Tuesday is the youth vote, both in the number of young people who turned out to vote and in their strong preference for Obama.
Two measures of a group's electoral participation are its share of the electorate, the fraction of all voters who belonged to the focal group; and turnout, the percentage of eligible members of the group who voted (formulas to calculate each of these figures are available here).
According to the research group CIRCLE, which studies youth civic engagement, an estimated 50% of eligible 18-29 year-olds voted in the 2012 election. This figure is only slightly shy of the 52% turnout of this age group in 2008.
Further, 18-29 year-olds comprised 19% of the 2012 electorate, according to exit polls reported by CNN.com. In 2008, the 18-29 group made up 18% of voters.
CIRCLE director Peter Levine was quoted as follows: “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.”
In the closing weeks of the 2012 campaign, several observers suggested that many young Obama voters from 2008 were now becoming "disillusioned" with the President, and would either switch to voting for the Republican Mitt Romney or skip voting altogether (here, here, and here).
Instead, voters age 18-29 gave Obama a strong majority over Romney last Tuesday, 60% to 37%. This year's pro-Obama margin among the young was not quite as extreme as his 66%-32% rout of Republican John McCain in 2008, but was still decisive.
In fact, CIRCLE contends that the 18-29 year-old vote was crucial to Obama's victories last Tuesday in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
A full analysis of why young people turned out to vote and cast their ballots so heavily for Obama is, of course, beyond the scope of this blog posting. I do have a few thoughts, though. First, considering that the difficulty of first establishing oneself in today's tough job market falls heavily on the young, it really does seem remarkable that this group supported the president in such large numbers. Counteracting the economic issues, it may have been young voters' social tolerance that led them (largely) to stick with Obama. For example, young adults appear to be quite accepting and supportive of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. In addition, the Obama campaign's apparent sophistication with database consolidation and social media likely helped with outreach to young voters.
UPDATE 11/12/2012: The Huffington Post has a nice article on the youth vote, featuring interviews with a political scientist and youth organizers from various political perspectives.
UPDATE 11/28/2012: The Pew Research Center provides an in-depth analysis of exit-poll data and some of its own findings on young voters.
UPDATE 5/16/2013: Based on the U.S. Census Bureau's recently released report on last November's Current Population Survey, it appears that 18-29 year-olds may have comprised more like 15% of the 2012 electorate than the 19% described above.