Political Animal


October 01, 2012 4:40 PM Young Voters and New Voters

By Ed Kilgore

As noted earlier today, one important variable for Democrats on November 6 is the size of the under-30 vote, a huge asset in 2008. But as a moment’s reflection should indicate, it’s a bit more complicated than that: a new cohort of voters just now qualified to participate has entered the system, which means that if Dems can hang on to a disproportionate share of the voters who were just under 30 in 2008, a falloff in “youth vote” turnout could disguise a growing partisan advantage. Nate Cohn runs the numbers:

[I]f turnout among these voters is down 18 percent—and that’s beneath 2004, by the way—the total number of young, disproportionately non-white, and Obama-friendly voters actually increases from 23.5 to 25.7 million….
Even in this relatively low-turnout scenario, 6.5 million new 18-22 year olds will enter the electorate and they can go a long way toward helping Obama compensate for declining turnout among ’08 voters or an increase in conservative turnout. If they vote 63-37 for Obama, the president would net 1.7 million voters.

This is why “generational” elections like 2008 matter a lot. A rising generation tends to cling to its initial partisan leanings, and is buttressed by new voters with similar tendencies. Old voters don’t “check out” as quickly as new voters “check in,” but the net effect is gradually in favor of whoever captures the imagination and allegiances of the younger cohorts.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on October 01, 2012 5:40 PM:

    I work around a lot of 20-somethings, most of which are college educated or in college. Romney is a laughing stock to them, a buffoon. If they vote, they'll vote Obama.

  • Peter C on October 01, 2012 5:42 PM:

    You'd better use a cell-phone poll to measure this demographic. My daughter is 18 and she doesn't have a land-line.

    She's going to college in Ohio and she's registered her whole dorm suite and getting them to go out and vote early too. They are all aghast at the sexism and homophobia of the modern Republican party.

    By the way, her grandparents (who live in Texas) called to make sure she was registered to vote. They, too, don't want Romney to win.

    It all makes me kinda hopeful about the future, really.

  • James E. Powell on October 01, 2012 6:23 PM:

    While the youngest voters may not turn out at the same rate they did in 2008, the ones who do will have impact because they are so different from their grandparents' generation, whether or not they are replacing those older voters.

    The youngest voters are not frightened by gays and lesbians and have no problem with them getting married. They do not respond to racist-coding; to the extent they are aware of it, they are repelled by it. They have no memory of or interest in the civil wars of the 1960s, so the hippie-punching and the constant cry that Democrats are too weak or outright disloyal to defend America make no sense to them.

    Those issues have helped the Republicans to win close elections for the last thirty years. When those issues no longer wedge, what do the Republicans have?

    I do not see anything that would indicate that Romney/Ryan is even trying to get the youngest voters.

  • exlibra on October 01, 2012 8:30 PM:

    Went canvassing on Saturday, in a "3-generations posse" (myself, a woman who could -- almost -- be my daughter and her daughter, aged 14). We hit several houses where our "target" was a young one -- a child or grandchild of the owners. In * almost every case* we got the same answer: "he/she is at U in .../abroad. But is registered to vote, will definitely vote, will definitely vote for Obama and Kaine (I'm in VA), already put in for the absentee ballot". The few exceptions were in cases where the child was also in a battleground ground state and registered to vote there.

    Romney had better not count on the youth vote; we never saw anyone "disaffected", but we saw a lot of people who were scared rigid of him and his policies (what we can deduce about them).