From the Washington Post:
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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.
As the president travels to 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.