Among the most dramatic findings reported in the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) is a large decline in turnout rates among young people, particularly those who were first eligible to vote in the 2012 election. In contrast, older persons’ turnout rates remained steady, or even increased. Given the large disparities in support for Obama among younger and older voters, Obama’s smaller margin of victory in 2012 was thus partially a turnout story, as the electorate’s composition was older, and more favorable to Republicans in 2012 compared to 2008.
Younger people are less likely to vote, a pattern evident in all election surveys. These younger people may thus benefit from campaigns’ mobilization efforts to register and encourage them to vote. These mobilization efforts, like much else in presidential campaigns, are concentrated in the closely fought battleground states — which I define here as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia. The turnout rate decline from 2008 to 2012 may thus be expected to be lower among the battleground states, particularly for younger people.
Failing to Mobilize the Youth Vote
Below, in a methodology section, I argue that the adjusted citizen-voting-age population (CVAP) turnout rates, in the far right column under “CVAP Turnout Rate (Adj.)”, the most reliable to assess patterns in youth vote. I provide the unadjusted turnout rates under “CVAP Turnout Rate” as a reference, but I will only discuss the former. Turnout rates in 2008 and 2012 are presented for various age categories in both battleground and non-battleground states. I discuss overall national rates here.
The key statistics in the table is that turnout rates among the youngest people, for whom the 2012 election was their first election, declined in both the battleground states and the other states, by 6.2 percentage points and 8.8 percentage points, respectively. Conversely, turnout rates for older people actually increased between 2008 and 2012, even more so in the battleground states.
Since 2004, younger and older people hold increasingly different preferences over Democratic and Republican candidates. Obama’s lower national vote margin in 2012 compared to 2008 can thus be understood as a turnout story, with an important Democratic constituency removing themselves from the electorate and an important Republican constituency reemerging.