President Obama and the misunderstood youth vote

at 06:30 AM ET, 04/24/2012

Everyone knows that one of the pillars of President Obama’s 2008 victory was young people. What most people don’t get is how exactly the youth vote mattered to Obama.


ANN ARBOR, MI, - JANUARY 27: Students cheer as U.S. President Barack Obama appears at the University of Michigan January 27, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
As the president travels to North Carolina and Colorado today to kick off a tour of college campuses to promote the extension of lower interest rates for student loans — official business, ahem, says the White House — it’s worth re-examining what happened among young people in the 2008 election and whether he can re-create that magic in 2012.

The most common misconception about 2008 is that Obama grew the youth vote — defined for our purposes as those between 18 and 29 years old — by any significant measure as compared to past elections. He didn’t.

Take a look at this chart, which details the percentage of the overall electorate 18-29-year-old voters comprised in every presidential election since 1980:

Young voters comprised 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, a one-point improvement from their share of the electorate in 2004, 2000 and 1996, but nowhere near the heights they reached in the 1980s.

What Obama did do — good grammar! — is win young voters by a far greater margin than any Democratic presidential nominee in modern times.

Again, we turn to a chart looking at the percentages the Democratic and Republican nominees won among 18-29-year-old voters:

Obama’s 34-point margin among young people was almost double the next best showing by a Democratic nominee; Bill Clinton won 18-29-year-old voters by 19 points in his sweeping 1996 reelection victory.

The youth turnout then was far less consequential to Obama’s victory than the consolidation of the 18-29-year-old vote behind his candidacy.

Looking forward to 2012 then, Obama doesn’t need to drive record turnout among young people — it’s a virtual impossibility that turnout among 18-29-year olds will approach the 24 percent of the electorate they comprised in 1984 — but rather to maintain (or come close to maintaining) his margin among that group.

Polling provides a muddled picture of whether Obama can hope to recreate that sort of margin.

Obama’s favorable ratings among young people have fallen since 2009, but they have fallen less quickly and less precipitously than with other age groups.

In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, 66 percent of 18-29-year olds viewed Obama favorably, while 29 percent viewed him unfavorably. (His high point was an 82 percent favorable score in January 2009; his lower point a 49 percent favorable rating in September 2011.) A Post-ABC survey conducted earlier in April showed Obama leading former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney 57 percent to 36 percent among 18-29-year olds.

If Obama is able to keep up that margin among young people — assuming they comprise somewhere between 17 and 19 percent of the electorate — he has a major leg up to win a second term. (Romney knows that, hence his move to support low-interest student loans during a press conference in Pennsylvania on Monday.)

Remember that, when it comes to the youth vote, it’s not how large it is, but how large Obama’s margin is among 18-29-year olds that truly matters.

Gingrich sounds like he may drop out: Newt Gingrich sounds as though his campaign may come to a close after today’s primaries.

Gingrich told NBC News that he will gauge his campaign by its finish in Delaware’s primary, one of five primaries today and a race his campaign has focused heavily on. He said he may have to “reassess” his campaign based on the results there.

“I think we need to take a deep look at what we are doing,” Gingrich said. “We will be in North Carolina tomorrow night, and we will look and see what the results are.”

Gingrich added: “We have got really positive responses, and I would hope we would do well here – either carry it or come very, very close.”

DCCC names 14 to Red to Blue program: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is adding 14 candidates to its “Red to Blue” program for top challengers and open seat candidates.

According to advance information provided to The Fix, the DCCC’s new Red to Blue candidates are: former congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona’s open 1st district, Pete Aguilar (CA-31, Gary Miller), Raul Ruiz (CA-36, Bono Mack), Joe Miklosi (CO-06, Coffman), Patrick Murphy (FL-18, West), David Crooks (IN-08, Bucshon), Gary McDowell (MI-01, Benishek), John Delaney (MD-06, Bartlett), Shelley Adler (NJ-03, Runyan), Julian Schreibman (NY-19, Gibson), Manan Trivedi (PA-06, Gerlach), Pat Kreitlow (WI-07, Duffy) and two districts with multiple candidates: Arizona’s open 9th district and New York’s 18th District, where Rep. Nan Hayworth (R) is running.

The committee is also adding 13 races to its “emerging races” list: Q. Byrum Hurst (AR-04, open), Blong Xiong (CA-21, open), Gloria Romero Roses (FL-26, Rivera), Teresa Hensley (MO-04, Hartzler), Hayden Rogers (NC-11, open), Mark Murphy (NY-11, Grimm), Dan Lamb (NY-22, Hanna), Joyce Healy-Abrams (OH-07, Gibbs), Sharen Neuhardt (OH-10, Turner), George Badey (PA-07, Meehan), Larry Maggi (PA-18, Murphy), Matt Varilek (SD-AL, Noem) and New York’s 23rd district, where Rep. Tom Reed (R) is running.

Finally, the committee is naming four candidates to its list of “majority makers” — i.e. open seats where the party is expected to win: Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Dan Kildee (MI-05), Dina Titus (NV-01) and Joyce Beatty (OH-03).

The DCCC now has 35 races in its Red to Blue program. It needs 25 seats to retake the majority — a possibility House Speaker John Boehner alluded to Monday.

Fixbits:

A new Arizona poll shows Romney and Obama in a virtual tie. Democrats have suggested they may go after the state.

Newt Gingrich, whose campaign bounced its $500 check to the state of Utah to get on the ballot, rights its wrong.

Jon Ralston imagines Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) getting the VP call.

Missouri GOP Senate candidate Sarah Steelman hasn’t heard of the “Violence Against Women Act.”

The Jury has been chosen in John Edwards’ trial.

Former congressman Bob Etheridge is up with an ad in the North Carolina Democratic governor primary.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has an early lead in the 2013 New York mayor’s race.

Must-reads:

Democrats plan bill to undo Arizona immigration law if it is upheld by court” — Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

Obama, Romney focus on student debt as campaign issue” — Ylan Q. Mui and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

In North Carolina, more evidence of Obama’s delicate approach to gay rights” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

What Newt Gingrich Lost by Running for President” — Molly Ball, The Atlantic

Where will Romney find his vice president? Probably on the Hill” — Ben Pershing, Washington Post

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