The youth vote was a driving force for Obama

More young voters cast their vote this past election than in recent history helping to elect the country’s first African American president, Barack Obama. Since 2000 the youth vote has been in question with many wondering if they would make a difference this time around.

Many young voters saw this election as a way to participate in making history and millions gravitated to the popular appeal put forward by the Obama campaign. Along with core voting blocs including the labor movement, African Americans, Latinos, women and working-class voters of all nationalities and religions, young voters certainly helped make history by changing the face of U.S. politics forever.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a non partisan organization that does research on political involvement, an estimated 24 million, age 18 to 29 voted, an increase of 2.2 million over 2004.

The group points out that youth turnout was up to 54.5 percent, 19 percent more than in 2004. According to preliminary reports the 2008 youth turnout was just 1 percentage point shy of youth voter turnout’s all-time high in 1972.

Exit polls indicate that voters 18 to 29 favored Obama 66 percent to McCain’s 32 percent. Obama’s strongest support came from African American and Latino youth. About two-thirds of voters younger than 30 supported Obama and the overwhelming majority of African American and about three-quarters of Latino voters in that age bracket said they favored Obama. More than half of the white youth who voted favored Obama, while two out of five said they supported McCain.

Among those aged 30 to 44 the gap was closer with 52 percent who supported Obama to McCain’s 46 percent. The vote was evenly split among ages 45 to 64. Voters 65 and older leaned toward McCain with 53 percent compared to 45 percent for Obama.

John Della Volpe who is director of polling for the Harvard Institute of Politics said to MSNBC that this was one of the highest youth turnouts ever and added that 12 percent more Americans voted in the overall electorate.

Della Volpe said the reason why Obama won the majority of the overall vote was due to the strong showing from voters 18 to 29. “If you subtracted some of their turnout, or if you raised the voting age to 21, it’s a much closer race – or maybe he loses,” he said. Obama won the youth vote by 8.3 or 8.4 million – and he won the overall popular vote by about 8 million, Della Volpe said.

“Young people, no question, were the driving force behind this election,” he said.

Some states where the majority usually votes Republican ended up voting Democratic and many argue it was the youth turnout that made the difference. Obama won the youth vote in North Carolina by nearly 50 points, with 73 points over McCain’s 27, turning that state from red to blue. And in Indiana, Obama won the youth vote 63 to 35 over McCain. Obama lost every other age category in those states. In the battleground state of Florida, pollsters believe it was the 61 percent of young voters who voted Democratic that helped solidify an Obama lead. Obama won four and half times more youth votes than Kerry did in 2004.

Young voters sided with the Democratic Party by about a 2-1 ratio.

In 2000 about 16.2 million youth voted. In 2004, it was about 19.4 million and in 2008 between 21.6 million and 23.9 million voted. Voters ages 18-29 represented 18 percent of the vote, up from 17 percent in the past three national elections.

Young people are at the bottom of the job market. Many say that the younger generation will be the first that won’t be financially better off than their parents. College debt is a real issue for young people today – nearly $20,000 for the average student. More than a quarter of young people lack health care coverage.

plozano@pww.org