Karlo Barrios Marcelo
October 29, 2008
As most others inside the Beltway, I’ve spent most days, nay, most waking hours, and probably even some dream-filled ones, following each moment of this election. For me it began in earnest during the Iowa caucuses. My former home-state Sen. Barack Obama had pulled off what seemed like the unimaginable just a few months prior.
Obama won Iowa ( pdf) in the primary elections with the help of young voters, many of them new to the electoral process. In the Iowa Democratic Caucus, 47,000 young people braved the cold and participated–57 percent of these caucus-goers supported Sen. Obama, giving him a 40-point margin over his chief rivals Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Obama didn’t win any age group over 45 years old, so it was the young voters that helped establish this historic front-runner in what has become the most followed election in modern times.
Obama has ridden a steady-wave of youth support in almost every primary battle since Iowa. Overall, he snagged 60 percent (pdf) of all young voters in a year that witnessed a nine percentage point increase in youth turnout since 2000. Of the 38 primary battles for which CIRCLE (where I work as a research associate) has exit poll data, he won the majority of the youth vote in all but 7 states, and that includes Michigan. (pdf)
Young voters are not a monolithic bloc, and it is only recently that young people started choosing the Democratic Party and its candidates. In 2000, Gore won young people by only 2 percentage points over Bush, while Kerry expanded this margin to 9 percentage points in the 2004 contest. Nader won 5 percent of the youth vote in 2000 and less than one percent in 2004. In the 2006 midterm elections (pdf), young voters were more likely than any other age group to favor Democratic congressional candidates.
A recent Pew Research Center poll has Obama leading McCain by an astonishing 44 points. The enthusiasm gap among young voters is overwhelmingly in Obama’s favor too. Forty-seven percent of Obama supporters are enthusiastic about his candidacy compared to only 11 percent for McCain.
McCain didn’t fare well with young Republicans during the primary season; he didn’t court young voters as strongly as other demographics. Of the young Republican voters, McCain garnered only 34 percent of the youth vote, a slight plurality over Huckabee (31 percent) and Romney (25 percent). Yet, McCain can’t be too pleased with this statistic, because he was on the ballot in every Republican primary contest. Huckabee won Iowa in similar fashion as Obama–winning the 37 percent of the youth vote compared to only 8 percent for McCain.