Impact of the Youth Vote

14 02 2008

Some in the mainstream media have questioned whether or not the youth vote will have an appreciable long term impact on the election. After all, they say, its really risky to rely on a segment of the population that’s much too distracted by Britney, American Idol, iPhones, getting the Wire on Demand, and Xbox 360.

But the Pew Research Center’s analysis of recent data clearly demonstrate that young people are in fact energized by this election cycle.

According to the NBC News exit polls, young voters’ share of the Democratic electorate on Feb. 5 was higher in nearly every state for which a good comparison with 2004 is available. In all of the 2008 contests for which exit poll data are available, young people have constituted an average (median) of 14% of Democratic primary voters, up from a median of 9% in the set of comparable contests in 2004.

The surge in youth turnout has occurred in a diverse collection of states, including those with large African-American populations (Georgia, South Carolina), those that are nearly all-white (Iowa, New Hampshire), and one with a large Hispanic population (California).

Youth turnout as a percentage of the total is up in states that voted at the very beginning of the primary process and for which the comparisons with 2004 are most apt (Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina), as well as in those where the 2004 comparison is to contests held in March of that year after the nomination was essentially settled (California, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York).

So who are these voters?

Beyond the vote, the exit polls on Super Tuesday point to interesting differences — and similarities — between younger and older Democratic voters. Young Democratic voters are considerably more likely than their elders to be Hispanic, and slightly more likely to be black.

They are more apt to say they have no religious affiliation (23% vs. 18% among those ages 30-44, 15% among those 45-59, 10% among those ages 60 and older), and more likely to say they are “liberal” in their political orientation.

Its seems as if young people generally, and young people of color in particular, are currently the ones creating the new progressive majority.

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