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Posted by on Nov 27, 2012 in Featured, Politics | 5 comments

In Helping To Elect Obama, Under-30s Exercised Their Growing Influence

Pew chartJust before the election, I told a friend that 2012 felt a lot like the late 60s or early 70s, or what I imagine them to have been like to an adult.

Then, Vietnam. Now, Iraq/Afghanistan.

Then, women’s health issues and Roe v Wade. Now, women’s health issues and Sandra Fluke plus trans-vaginal ultrasounds.

Then Sony/Betamax. Now, Apple/iTunes and Megaupload.

Then, civil rights for blacks. Now, marriage rights for gays.

Then, M*A*S*H. Now, the Colbert Report.

And just like in the ’70s, at the ballot box under-30 voters thumbed their noses at their parents and grandparents. What was different this time: the Democrat won.

The last two presidential elections have had the widest gaps in voting between young and old of any election since 1972. This year, 60% of those under 30 backed Obama, compared with just 48% of those 30 and older; in 2008, the gap was 16 points (66% of under 30 supported Obama vs. 50% of those 30 and older).

This year’s 12-point difference between old and young … was identical to the gap in 1972, when 46% of voters 18-29 supported George McGovern compared with just 34% of those 30 and older.

That observation is from Pew’s analysis of exit poll data from the November 6 election. From 1976 to 2004, Pew reports “only modest generational differences in presidential vote preferences.”

How did the youth vote matter? It helped secure four key swing states totaling 80 electoral votes.

In Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Obama also failed to win a majority of voters 30 and older. Yet he swept all four battleground states, in part because he won majorities of 60% or more among young voters.

In Florida, Obama took the younger vote two-to-one, 66% to 32%.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania, it was 62% to 35%. In Virginia, 61% to 36%. These states were closer to the national average of 60% to 36%. But the margin of victory was so narrow – less than 1% in Florida, for example, and 1.3% in Ohio – that you can argue (as Pew does) that young voters tipped the election.

And there’s more to think about than just these two presidential elections.


Among voters 29 and younger, only 58% identify as non-Hispanic white.

The share of young voters who are white has declined 16 points since 2000, when 74% of voters under 30 identified as white and 26% identified as nonwhite…

This stands in sharp contrast to older voters. Fully 76% of voters 30 and older were white, down only six points from 2000.

As in the ’60s and ’70s, the under-30 voters are more socially liberal than their elders.

A majority (59%) said that the government should do more to solve problems, …

On social issues, 64% of voters younger than 30 said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 58% of voters 30 and older. And they are far more likely than older voters to support allowing gay marriage. Fully 66% of young voters favored their states legally recognizing gay marriage, compared with 45% of voters 30 and older (and just 37% of those 65 and older).

Will they help cement a resurgence of liberalism? And will follow suit and lead a conservatism rebound in 20-30 years?

Whatever the future – near or far – holds, one thing is certain: the current Republican Party platform is quickly becoming as outdated as ’80s big hair and glasses.

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