Turnout and the Youth Vote

Feb 8, 2008 11:12am

This note takes a look at turnout overall in primaries to date, and then tackles the question of turnout among young voters. In short, with the combined punch of an exciting race and earlier dates, turnout in Democratic races is up. Turnout among young voters, though, is a more complicated story – up in some Democratic races, but not in others.

TURNOUT OVERALL – It’s risen, especially in Democratic contests, and especially this week. Turnout on Tuesday peaked at 28 percent of eligible voters in the Massachusetts Democratic primary, more than double its 2004 level; 23 percent in Illinois, up from 14; and 20 percent in New Jersey, up from just 4 percent in the state’s June 2004 primary.

Turnout in Republican races was much lower, and generally did not increase sharply. Compared to 2000, it was up by 10 points in Alabama and Utah, and by 8 in Oklahoma and Arkansas, but down by 12 in New York and by 4 points in California.

All this is tabled below; figures are as a percentage of eligible voters, and reflect votes reported to date – there still are some absentee votes to add. Per AP's vote count, the totals to date are 18,984,677 in Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses; 12,862,478 in the Republican races.


               Dem. Turnout         Rep. Turnout                     % of eligible voters             2008   2004 (date)   2008    2000 (date)Super Tues - Primaries:Mass.         28    13 (3/2)       11     11 (3/7)Illinois      23    14 (3/16)      10      9 (3/21)New Jersey    20     4 (6/8)       10      4 (6/6)California    19    15 (3/2)       11     15 (3/7)Missouri      19    10 (2/3)       14     12 (3/7)Alabama       16     7 (6/1)       16      6 (8/6) Georgia       17    11 (3/2)       15     12 (3/7)Oklahoma      16    12 (2/3)       13      5 (3/14)Delaware      16     6 (2/3)        8      6 (2/8)Arkansas      14    13 (5/18)      10      2 (5/23)Connecticut   14     5 (3/2)        6      8 (3/7)New York      14     6 (3/2)        5     17 (3/7)Tennessee     14     9 (2/10)      12      6 (3/14)New Mexico    11    NA             NAArizona       10     7 (3/3)       12     10 (2/22)Utah           7     2 (2/27)      16      6 (3/10)


Super Tues – Caucuses:Colorado       4    NA              2      6 (3/10)Idaho          2     3 (5/25)      NAKansas         2    NA             NAMinnesota      6    NA              2      1 (3/7)North Dakota   4    NA              2      2 (2/29)Wyoming       NA                    0.3    NA


Previous:  Iowa          11     6 (1/19)       5      4 (1/24)New Hampshire 29    23 (1/27)      24     27 (2/1)Michigan       8    NA             12     18 (2/22)Nevada         7    NA              3      9 (3/21) S.C.          17     9 (2/3)       14     20 (2/19)Florida       14     6 (3/9)       15      7 (3/14)

YOUNG VOTERS – This leads us to the question of turnout among young voters. It’s gotten a lot of buzz since the Democratic race in Iowa, where young voters did turn out in disproportionately greater numbers, accounting for 22 percent of the party’s caucus-goers. But the story since then has been inconsistent, and Iowa remains the high-water mark.

The analytical challenge is that there are many ways to slice the pie. Overall, using what seems to us a reasonable approach, we’d say that on a state-by-state basis, turnout among voters under 30 is up a little in Democratic contests, and flat in Republican contests.

In probably the simplest way to do this, in all 2008 Democratic contests to date, 18- to 29-year-olds have accounted for 14 percent of voters. That compares to an average of 12 percent in 1992, for states for which we have exit poll data – 2 points higher this year. (It was lower in 2004, 9 percent, and 2000, 8 percent, but looks to have been higher in the 1980s.)

In Republican contests, young-voter turnout is 11 percent this year, vs. 12 percent in 1992 (and 10 percent in 1996, 9 percent in 2000).


 Under 30s as % of all voters           Dem   Rep    2008   14    11    2004    9    NA    2000    8     9    1996   NA    10    1992   12    12

Those are averages. A state-by-state evaluation shows a mixed pattern. All told, there are nine states in which Democratic turnout among young voters has been higher this year than its previous high going back to 1992 (by 2 or more points), eight flat and one down, with no data for the rest.

In Republican races, there are two in which young voter turnout has been up, six in which it’s been down, 10 flat, with no data for the rest.

Among some of the notable increases in Democratic races, young voters accounted for 16 percent of voters in California this week, up from 12 percent in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004 (but no higher than in 1984). It was 18 percent in Georgia, compared with a previous high (since 1992) of 15 percent. And it was 14 percent in South Carolina, compared with 9 percent in 2004.

Note, this looks at turnout among young voters as a percentage of all voters. In all those states where turnout was up overall, young people increased their turnout along with everybody else; the point is that while in some cases they did so disproportionately, in others they did not.

Here’s a list of turnout by 18- to 29-year-olds by state to date, with their previous highs in exit polls since 1992:


            Under 30s as % of all voters     Change              Dem   Pvs.*   Rep   Pvs.*     Dem   Rep   Iowa        22    17      11    13        Up    Down  Georgia     18    15      11    12        Up    Flat  N.H.        18    17      14    15        Flat  Flat  Michigan    17    14      13    13        Up    Flat   Utah        17    NA      16     9        NA    Up  California  16    12      10    12        Up    Down  Illinois    15    14      10    10        Flat  Flat  New York    15    10       9     9        Up    Flat  Missouri    14     9      13    10        Up    Up  Mass.       14    16      13    20        Down  Down  New Jersey  13     8       8     8        Up    Flat  Alabama     13    13      12    11        Flat  Flat  Tennessee   13     9      11    13        Up    Down  S.C.        14     9      10    10        Up    Flat  Nevada      13    NA      11    NA        NA    NA  Delaware    10     9      NA    NA        Flat  NA      Conn.       10    11      11    10        Flat  Flat  Florida      9     8       7    10        Flat  Down  Oklahoma     9    10      14    15        Flat  Flat  Arkansas     9    NA      10    NA        NA    NA  New Mexico   8    NA      NA    NA        NA    NA  Arizona      8     7       6     9        Flat  Down



*Previous high since 1992

An interesting aside is that while the youth vote is most closely associated with Barack Obama – he won under-30s nationally by 16 points, 57-41 percent – this was not the case in every state. In Arkansas and Oklahoma, Hillary Clinton won under 30s; in California and Massachusetts, she and Obama split them evenly. Obama has a clear lead in this group – but not a lock.

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