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It’s Clear: Young Voters Turned Out In Record Numbers

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Classical studies major Omar Dyette, from Racine, Wis., front right, mans a table outside the polls on the campus of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio on Tuesday. Dyette volunteered with the Ohio Public Interest Research Group to register college students prior to the 2012 election.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Mark Duncan

Across the country, Millennials flocked to the polls to cast their ballots on Election Day, proving some pundits wrong and showing that young voters’ political power is continuing to grow.

In Wisconsin, exit polling shows that young voters played a key role in electing Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, with 57 percent of voters under 30 supporting her. Baldwin is the first openly gay member of the Senate, and young voters overwhemlingly support LGBT rights.

Nationwide, young voter turnout had a huge impact on the presidential election. According to the Associated Press, “Voters mirrored the voting public's makeup of four years ago, when Obama shattered minority voting barriers and drove young voters to the polls unlike any candidate in generations.”

But some pundits have predicted that young voters had lost their enthusiasm and would not come out in strong numbers. Yet without question, young people “awoke from their post-2008 slumber and once again went to battle for President Obama,” according to Forbes' Stephen Richer.

Right now, results indicated the youth vote made up 19 percent of the electorate, which is historically high compared to 17 percent in 1996, 2000, and 2004, and 18 percent in 2008.

"The role young people would play during this election has been a major question in American politics for over a year, and it seems the answer is that they have been as big a force at the polls in 2012 as in 2008," said Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which analyzes voter turnout.

[Read More: Detailed Analysis of the Youth Vote From Campus Progress]

By all accounts, it seems Millennial voters are on par to set records again in 2012.

Based on the share of the electorate, overall youth turnout for 2012 is estimated to be about 49 percent and could even reach or surpass the 51 percent showing in 2012. This is especially significant given the fact that close to 17 million more young people are eligible to vote than four years ago, meaning that the actual number of young people who voted could be even greater than the record set in 2008. Today, the Millennial generation (those 18 to 34) includes 46 million eligible voters.

[Read More: Millennial Voters Refuse To Be Left Out of this Election]

As the Huffington Post's Tyler Kingkade notes: “Headlines suggested a lack of enthusiasm among college students in this election and polling showed fewer were registered or planning to vote.” But, he adds, young voter turnout numbers are showing otherwise. The Daily Beast puts it bluntly: “Every four years for the foreseeable future, Hispanics and Millennials—two constituencies who seem almost as wedded to the Democratic Party as Catholics and Jews were in the 1930s—will become even larger shares of the electorate.”

Or maybe it’s the NBC News team who put it best: “Make no mistake: What happened last night was a demographic time bomb that had been ticking and that blew up in GOP faces. … Despite all the predictions that youth turnout would be down, voters 18-29 made up 19% of last night’s voting population — up from 18% four years ago — and President Obama took 60% from that group.”

Experts on the youth vote agree young voters are becoming increasingly engaged, taking action on issues they care about, and showing up at the polls.

“Tonight's results hopefully put an end to the accusation of a so called 'enthusiasm gap,' " said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote.

Anne Johnson, director of Campus Progress, agreed.

"We knew young voters would play a major role in this election either by their turnout or absence," Johnson said. "Tonight we saw that Millennials came out in force and look to once again be among the most significant voting blocs that made the difference in this election."

[Read More: Young People & State Ballot Measures in 2012]

It's becoming clear that Tuesday was a resounding victory for young voters and firmly establishes the political power of this generation.

And reports from young activists in the field support this.

Students in Wisconsin reported mostly positive news from their respective polling locations. Maxwell John Love, a student vote organizer, said bad weather and long didn’t stop young voters from turning out to cast their ballots. In Florida, Diego Sanchez, a young vote organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition reported that despite long lines, young voters were turning out in strong numbers and working to get their peers to the polls as well.

As results continue to come in, one thing has remained clear: Young voters made the difference in this year’s election and pundits are finally waking up to the fact that this generation will play an increasingly key role in every election to come.

This should be a lesson to all candidates: Ignore young people at your peril. We are informed, we are engaged, and we’re showing up to vote.

We'll be analyzing data on young voters throughout the week — continue to follow us here on CampusProgress.org

Brian Stewart is the Communications Director at Generation Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @brianstewart.

Abraham White is a communications associate at Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @abwhite7.

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