How Obama Won (and Lost) The Youth Vote
While young voters overwhelmingly (60%) supported President Obama in the 2012 election, support for the president among 18- to 29-year-olds dropped 11 percentage points from 2008. According to Generation Opportunity, the youth defection from the president stems from their differing views on issues - "like unemployment, job creation, taxes and regulation" - and their "disillusionment over the economy and big government."
There was general agreement among the liberal press that fewer young people would vote in 2012, but those "experts" were wrong: Actually, young voter turnout increased from 18% in 2008 to 19% this year (so much for those who said young people were uninterested in the election), but the president's margin of victory with this segment of voters decreased from 34 points to 23 points in 2012.
The data analysis of the youth vote by the Pew Foundation is very revealing. Support for the president declined nine points among all young men and 11 percentage points among young white men. Among all young black voters, the decline was four points, but among young black men it was "a whopping 14 points." The decline among young GOP voters and independent young voters was eight percentage points.
It seems pretty clear that these young people were affected by the unemployment of their peers and the burden that the fiscal crisis will put on their shoulders. The unemployment rate for people 18-29 is at 9.3% (underemployment is at 19.1%), and students are accumulating massive amounts of debt. Close to 50% of recent college graduates have been unable to find a job requiring a college degree, and it is even harder for youth who don't go to college to find work. The Sacramento Bee reports that the number of young college grads working as waiters in California almost doubled between 2006 and 2011. So did the number of retail sales clerks. Historically, low-level jobs in those sectors have gone to workers without a degree. That means those high school graduates who typically hold those jobs lose them to applicants with a college degree.
The Young Entrepreneur Council published some startling statistics:
- One out of two college grads - about 1.5 million, or about 53.6%, of bachelor's degree holders age 25 or younger - wereunemployed or underemployed in 2011.
- For high school grads (age 17-20), the unemployment rate was 31.1% from April 2011-March 2012;underemployment was 54%.
- Up to95% of job positions lostoccurred in low-tech, middle-income jobslike bank tellers. Gains in jobs are going to workers at the top or the bottom, not in the middle.
- More college graduates are getting low-level jobs, period. U.S. bachelor's degree holders are more likely to wait tables, tend bar, or become food-service helpers than to be employed as engineers, physicists, chemists, or mathematicians combined - 100,000 versus 90,000.
Why, then, did young voters overwhelmingly support President Obama? The short answer is: Demographics and Dependency.
Nearly 60% of young voters favor an activist government (compared to 44% of older voters). A sharp generational difference was noted in the racial and ethnic makeup of this year's voters. Seventy-six percent of voters 30 and older were white, with 12% black, 8% Latino and the rest falling under a number of other self-identifiers. Among young voters, 58% identified themselves as white, while 42% were either black, Latino or among another minority group. A popular Amazon discussion declared, "Young voters choose marijuana and government dependency over jobs and prosperity."
An analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University found that very minor shifts among the youth vote would have made a huge difference. If the youth vote had been split 50-50 in just four states - Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia - Romney would have been elected president. In each of those four crucial swing states, exit polling shows young voters made up 16-19% of the electorate.
The Romney campaign had estimated that the youth vote would be about 15-16%; instead, it was 19% (about 23 million voters). Thus, those extra youth showing up gave Mr. Obama a second term as president.