Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Blog

By Vieshnavi Rattehalli

Fall 2012 Intern


The final numbers on voter turnout are still being calculated, but it is crystal clear that the youth vote is here to stay. Turning out in record numbers, voters aged 18 to 28 comprised 19% of national voters, an increase of 1 percentage point from 2008, according to national exit polls conducted by organizations such as Edison Research and CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. Of those youth eligible to vote, 49.3% (23 million people) registered to vote and cast a ballot, but CIRCLE’s analysts predict that the final tallies could increase that figure to 51%, making turnout almost identical to their calculation of 2008 turnout. Since the figures are determined based on exit poll data, there is likely to be slight variation among different sources. Pew Research Center’s data states that youth voter registration in 2008 was approximately 61%, making 2012’s nearly 50% registration significantly lower.

According to Generation Opportunity’s Polls, the comparative lack of enthusiasm among youth voters leading up to last Tuesday’s election stems not from apathy as originally believed – only 63% of 18-29 year olds “definitely” planned to vote when polled, down 9 percentage points from 2008’s polls. Subdued enthusiasm for the election likely stemmed from the overwhelming feeling among youth that today’s politicians remain widely out of touch with youth voters’ needs and the issues important to them. However, that sentiment may have been exactly what spurred youth to turn out in record numbers at the polls. Voters aged 18-29 represent 21% of America’s voting eligible population, according to CIRCLE’s analysis of US Census Data, and their turnout seems to be holding steady at about 50%, a steady increase over the past 16 years, according to CIRCLE.

This phenomenon will likely have a “multiplier effect” in future elections, says Ridah Sabouni, who was involved in both the Yalla Vote campaign and Arab American Democrats. Aside from the positive energy and inspiration he finds in working with youth, he truly believes in the importance of youth voter turnout. Sabouni says, “In addition to impacting the elections of today, if we can get the youth on board with voting and civic engagement, we make it more likely that they will stay involved as they grow older. And we make it more likely that their kids and grand-kids get involved in the elections of tomorrow.”

President Obama secured the support of approximately 60% of youth voters, while Mitt Romney received only 36% of the vote. Though this number shows a slight drop in Obama’s favor among youth – Obama received 66% of the youth vote in 2008 over McCain’s 32% – Obama’s favorability among youth voters in key swing states held steady or increased, according to national exit polling from CNN. In Ohio, Obama carried 63% of youth votes, a margin of 29 points, and an increase from his 25 point margin in 2008. In Florida, Obama took 67% of youth votes, up from 61% in 2008, and in Virginia, Obama held a 20 point lead of 59% over McCain’s 39%, after a margin of 21 points in 2008. Interestingly, Obama lost 9 percentage points from voters aged 25-29, and the gender gap in youth Obama supporters mirrors the national trends: women favored Obama 65 – 31.

Voter registration among youth voters remains lower than the national average for all other age demographics, all of which see at least 70% registered to vote. However, in comparison to 2008 voting levels, every demographic except youth saw a slight decrease in registration levels this year. By contrast, youth registration held fairly steady. Online registration, offered in twelve states, is partially responsible for this, and was especially visible in California, where 28% of the state’s votes were cast by youth though the 18-29 age demographic is only 24% of the population. In part, youth turnout can be explained by the sentiment that America’s political elite does not actually represent the interests of young Americans, and that the number of ballot initiatives (gay marriage, health care, Pell grants) relevant to youth voters was especially high. “Many lawmakers make policy decisions based on the electoral makeup of their communities and based on those who actually vote, so [galvanizing the youth vote] is the first step in influencing policy,” says Fayrouz Saad, who was actively involved in Get Out the Vote in Florida and Virginia for this election. “It is important that the youth get out the vote in order to prove they are active members in their communities and will influence change and policy through the electoral process,” Saad says.

Salim Alchurbaji builds on this notion, emphasizing the importance of expanding minority participation in the American democratic system.  He says, “It’s important for minorities and new immigrant communities to participate in campaigns as it demonstrates a commitment to public service and a sense of belonging to this country, more so than voting alone does.”

First involved in campaign work as part of College Democrats at the University of Michigan, Alchurbaji has continued to be involved in campaign work at every turn. In the elections this month, he focused on getting out the Arab American and Muslim American youth vote through student organizations at Washington, D.C. area colleges, and hopes in the future to expand awareness of the importance of voting to high school students. “Promoting participation is the most basic of democratic exercises. The ability to vote for one's representation is something people around the world - as most recently exemplified by the Arab Spring - are willing to die for, and we Americans should not take this right for granted,” says Alchurbaji.

“Let your voice be heard,” Alchurbaji says, “Ensure the health of our democracy as it reflects, represents, and works in the benefit of all its citizens.”

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