Why Republicans are so worried

Republicans have to be worried about the youth vote for Obama.  Here’s what the map would look like if just 18-29 year olds decided who was president.

(from farm4.static.flickr.com)

(from farm4.static.flickr.com)

And the exit polls had young voters preferring Obama over John McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent, the highest ever since exit polls began reporting Presidential votes in 1976.  This youth vote continues to become more non-white:  it was 74% white in 2000, 68% non-white in 2004 and was only 62% white in 2008. [For a fuller report on youth in the 2008 election see this Pew Research Center report.]

Last time youth was so divided on a president was the election of Ronald Reagan (with youth strongly tipping Republican).  The Reagan landslide ushered in several decades of increasing conservatism.  In 2008, 45% of voters 18-29 identified as Democrats, compared with only 26% who identified as being Republican or 29% as independent. (In 2000, young voters were basically evenly split between Democrats (36%) and Republicans (35%). This is part of the reason why Republican commentators (like William Kristol) are so concerned.

Voters often keep their party affiliations for a long time, so it can make a big deal the political environment and party IDs that they first affiliate as.  It’s like political imprinting, where much as the same way ducks imprint on the first moving object they see and assume it is their mother, teenagers at a key impressionable time of their political career, often seize disproportionately on the politics of the movement.

Finally, the young voters were especially active in the campaign.  While young voters didn’t donate money as much as older groups (to be expected because of their stage in life), Pew’s post-election survey found that 28% of young voters in battleground states had attended a campaign event, far more than among other age groups.

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