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November 9, 2004

latest on the youth vote

We've had a wild week at CIRCLE. Many early news stories claimed that youth turnout was 17% (for under-30s) or 10% (for under-25s). Many reporters and pundits (especially on TV) concluded that just one in ten young people had participated. Academic experts were fed that number and asked to comment; they opined sagely about the fecklessness of youth. In fact, these statistics represent young people's share of the electorate. Turnout--which means the percentage of young citizens who voted--was 52% for under 30s and 42.3% for under 25s. In other words, more than half of people under the age of 30 voted, reversing more than 12 years of decline and surpassing all reasonable expectations. Their share was unchanged from 2000 because all age groups voted at higher rates, although the change for young people was proportionately higher (the same percentage-point change on a smaller base).

We struggled hard to change the dominant news story, and began to succeed by the end of the week. Just for instance, I'm quoted in today's Washington Post as part of a positive and accurate story. Meanwhile, we have been able to conduct more fine-grained analysis. According to a fact sheet that we released this morning (see pdf):

  • The turnout rate of 18-24s rose 5.8 percentage points to 42.3%, as 1.8 million more under-25s went to the polls than in 2000. (In comparison, turnout of 18-29s rose 9.3 points.)

  • Eight million under 30 voters were first-time voters. They represented 64% of all first-time voters.

  • Youth chose Kerry (54%-45% for under 30s; 56%-43% for under 25s)

  • Youth had distinctive opinions and attitudes, especially in contrast to people who are currently in their 30s. They were more likely to identify themselves as liberal and much more favorable toward gay marriage. However, their issue priorities and their opinions of certain issues (such as abortion and Iraq) mirrored those of the electorate as a whole. Details are in the fact sheet.
  • There are still people saying that Kerry lost because young people didn't turn out for him. For instance, Bob Herbert speculates that the Democrats would have won if "those younger voters had actually voted. ..." We are a nonpartisan organization, and our concern is youth participation, not helping Democrats. However, I would say this to the Dems: 1) Young people did turn out. 2) They chose Kerry by a fairly narrow margin, as everyone's pre-election polling had predicted. After all, they are politically diverse. 3) All older groups preferred Bush. So blaming young people for failing to vote just won't wash.

    Posted by peterlevine at 11:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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