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By Abraham White
December 1, 2012
Caption : A recent report from Pew shows just how critical young voters (18-29) were to President Obama’s reelection.     


It’s been widely reported that young voters (18-29) made the difference in re-electing President Obama, but Pew released a new report showing that young voters played a bigger role than expected.

While Obama’s national support among young voters was slightly down from 2008 when they supported him by 2 to 1 margin, a closer look reveals that his 2012 victory was even more dependent on the Millennial vote. The reason? In 2012, Obama narrowly lost voters 30 and older (a group he won in 2008) to Romney, 48-50. With that shift, he needed a boost from young voters much more than he did in 2008, and they came through for him, especially in the  critical swing states where the race was closest: Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

In each of those four states Obama lost among voters over 30 but won 60 percent or greater support from young voters.

Additionally, the overall, youth share of the electorate was up from 18 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2012. The increase is noteworthy not only because all signs leading up to the election pointed to a smaller showing from young voters than in 2008, but also because the total number of young people eligible to vote is up substantially. About 16 million young people turned 18 in the last four years, and as Millennials continue to come of age, their political power will only increase.

A big shift happened in the final weeks before the election (just as in 2008), when interest surged among young voters, who once more came out in force to support Obama.

However, the president’s support among young voters was not absolute. Indeed, the unprecedented level of diversity among Millennials was a key factor in his carrying the demographic overall. Obama’s support was highest among African-American and Latino voters generally and so the fact that so many young voters are among these groups was critical to the president’s success with Millennials. As Pew states:

His losses among young voters since 2008 might have been even greater, but for the fact that the under 30s are by far the most racially and ethnically diverse age group. Just 58% are white non-Hispanic, compared with 76% of voters older than 30. 

As we’ve written previously, Millennials strongly support progressive values and policies, which is another reason Obama did so well with them again this year.  And as they continue to make up more of the electorate, we’ll see more and more of these kinds of policies enacted and expanded. The key issues that Pew identifies as having strong support from young people include:

  • 59 percent believe the government should do more.
  • 53 percent support expanding or maintaining Obamacare.
  • 68 percent believe undocumented immigrants should be given a chance to achieve legal status.
  • 64 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
  • 66 percent believe their state should legalize marriage equality.
  • 61 percent believe the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy.

With each new election cycle, the importance of young voters will grow and it will be harder and harder for candidates who reject these values to succeed. Millennials are the new electoral reality and will play an increasingly large role in every election for decades to come.

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