Amidst the after-action analysis of the how and why President Obama won re-election with such (relative) ease, the element that intrigues us most is how powerful the youth vote — the 18-29 year old set — was in the race.
Pew — love them! — broke down the youth vote in a million different ways in a recent memo (you should check it out) but one chart in particular caught our eye. It breaks down the performance of each of the Democratic presidential nominees going back to 1972 among voters under 30 and those over 30. Here’s the chart:
In 2008, Obama had the largest margin between his under and over 30 vote — +16 among the young — since the start of exit polling in 1972. In 2012, he matched the previous high of +12 that George McGovern carried in the 1972 contest. (One other interesting note: Only Obama in 2008 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 won a majority — both got 50 percent — of the over-30 vote.)
It’s not just at the national level where young people mattered in a big way for Obama. As Pew notes, Obama lost the over-30 vote in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania but won every one of those swing(ish) states because he took more than 60 percent of the vote among those under 30.
And then there is this sentence, which has to strike fear in the hearts of all Republican strategists, from the Pew report: “Just 58 percent [of those under 30] are white non-Hispanic, compared with 76 percent of voters older than 30.” In other words: It may get worse before it gets better for Republicans.
What these numbers make clear is that President Obama and his political team — most notably pollster Joel Benenson — were right when they insisted time and again that the political world was missing the boat on the youth vote. In 2012, young people repeated their role as a foundational pillar of President Obama’s winning coalition — a role very similar to the one they played in 2008. And, it’s uniquely possible that they actually mattered more in 2012 for Obama than they did in 2008.
What’s less clear is whether the Democratic appeal to young voters is tied directly to Obama or whether it is portable to other candidates up and down the ballot in the coming years. It’s worth noting that in 2000 Al Gore received the same percentage of the vote (48 percent) among those under and over 30, and John Kerry’s +7 margin between those younger than 30 and those older than 30 was nowhere near the margins enjoyed by President Obama.
So, the kids are clearly alright for President Obama. But will they feel the same way about the next Democratic presidential nominee?