The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, is the only institution to estimate the youth voter turnout on the day after the election, based on national exit polls.
49.3 percent of eligible voters between 18 - 29 years old showed up to vote in the 2012 presidential election, and CIRCLE expects that number to rise to about 51 percent in the next few days once all the votes are tallied. This number is almost identical to the youth turnout in 2008.
CIRCLE’s estimate of the youth share of the electorate (or the percentage of total voters who are 18 - 29) is 19 percent, up from 18 percent in 2008.
We spoke with Felicia Sullivan, Senior Researcher at CIRCLE, who broke the numbers down for us, and explained why her team believes this high youth turnout is the “new normal,” and politicians should prepare to reckon with a powerful generation of voters.
Between 22 and 23 million 18 - 29 year-olds cast votes yesterday. Sixty percent of those votes went to newly re-elected President Barack Obama, and 37 percent went to Governor Mitt Romney. “Obama didn’t have as strong support as he did in 2008 with this group, so he did lose some points to Romney... There are liberal dispositions in this group, but it doesn’t mean that the Democratic party has a lock on this group. I think with some smart organizing and some smart messaging and some thinking about what a new conservative movement [looks like] could appeal to this group,” said Sullivan.
And young people were very influential in determining this race. Sullivan said, “We looked at Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia which have 80 electoral votes [combined]. If that 18-29 year-old group had split the vote with Romney, or maybe they decided they weren’t going to go to the polls at all because everything was so discouraging, Romney would have won the presidency.”
Sullivan added, “There are 46 million [18-29 year-olds] -- that’s seven million more than there are senior citizens in this country, and senior citizens are seen as a really important voting bloc.”
In 2008, Barack Obama got approximately 68 percent of the youth vote. His campaign was praised for leading an intense ground game on college campuses and doing direct outreach to young people. But how do analysts explain similar turnout this year?
“I do think there’s an attitudinal component. As a generation, this group sees themselves as wanting to make a difference, wanting to be involved, wanting to participate and be part of things, to really have some clout or power in what they’re doing,” said Sullivan.
No one saw the high youth turnout coming. In fact, Sullivan and her team did a youth poll over the summer and one in October that predicted a lower turnout. “In our October poll, about a quarter of young people we surveyed said neither candidate was really speaking to their issues,” said Sullivan. “I think maybe young people are showing up to the polls not because they’re so enthusiastic about a candidate and their personality, but rather this idea that voting is an expression of power, and therefore it’s important to show up and participate.”
Within the young demographic of voters, there are sub-trends that will soon be released in a more extensive analysis from CIRCLE. But Sullivan shared some early observations. “Certainly white men have a tendency to be more conservative and support Romney. Whites in general are less likely to support Obama. That group of young people... with children or married also trends conservative,” she said.
Despite the high number of young people that came out to the polls, there are still significant youth populations that aren’t accounted for. “Those young people who don’t have any kind of college education, less than a high school education, were certainly less of a presence at the polls than those with education.... While we saw some upticks form Latinos this time around, they’re still underrepresented.”
In the next few days, CIRCLE will be releasing further breakdowns of the youth turnout, including breakdown by ethnicity, level of education, etc.