WASHINGTON — Though the share of younger voters who opted for President Obama shrank from four years ago, his still-wide lead among those under 30 and their consistent turnout proved key in his reelection.
A new study from the Pew Research Center, built off exit polling by the National Election Pool, looks at just how crucial the young voters proved to be for Obama, particularly in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Nationally, the president won 60% of the youth vote, compared with Mitt Romney’s 36%. That 24-percentage-point margin was down from the 34-point edge (66% to 32%) Obama registered over Republican John McCain in 2008. But Romney narrowly beat Obama among the 30-and-older crowd — 50% to 48% — so Obama's still-considerable edge among younger voters provided an important boost. (In 2008, Obama squeaked past McCain among the 30-plus voters, 50% to 49%.)
Against Romney, Obama failed to gain a majority of voters 30 and older in any of the four states mentioned above. But he increased his share of younger voters by 5 percentage points in Florida and 1 point in both Ohio and Virginia. (His support slipped by 3 percentage points in Pennsylvania.)Younger voters also marginally increased their share of the electorate from 2008, moving up one point to 19%, disproving the prevailing preelection wisdom that they were uninterested, disheartened and unlikely to repeat their 2008 performance.
Why do young voters still overwhelmingly support Obama? The poll found that demographic composition — with the upcoming generations made up of an increasing number of minorities — and an outsized alignment with Obama’s policies played prominent roles.
In addition, 59% of younger voters say they favor an activist government, compared with 44% of the country as a whole. Fifty-three percent of younger voters said Obama's healthcare law should be expanded or left as is, compared with 44% who felt that way overall.
A sharp generational difference was noted in the racial and ethnic makeup of this year's voters. Seventy-six percent of voters 30 and older were white, with 12% black, 8% Latino and the rest falling under a number of other self-identifiers. Among those younger than 30, only 58% identified themselves as white, with 42% reporting themselves as either black, Latino or among another minority group.