What Happened with the NH Youth Vote?

We have plenty of theories this morning on how and why Clinton pulled out a win in the New Hampshire primary. I am happy to say the youth vote is not being blamed for Obama's loss and instead the Clinton campaign and even some pundits are saying it was because of the youth vote that she won.

Our first concern in the youth vote community was less about who won or lost, and more about how the surge in Iowa would be portrayed if Obama did not win. The conventional wisdom in 2004 was all young people were voting for Dean. That was not true, young voters were split between Kerry, Dean and Edwards. However, that didn't stop the media from blaming young people for Dean's loss. Additionally, when Kerry lost the general election, we spent the next four years explaining that young people did turn out beating a record high from 1992. In the end, it simply did not matter though, the media wrote the youth vote story and it was "young people are all hype, they say they will show up but don't."

Cynics and pundits are on message now. We did not hear many people last night blaming Obama's loss on young people and rather they were claiming it was young people who helped propel Clinton into victory. There may be something to that.

Obama has a wider youth campaign strategy and a broader youth movement happening right now which is why overall he has higher youth numbers. The Clinton campaign saw this and went after a group within the youth demographic they knew they could get-young professional women and working-class young people. Youth turnout overall jumped to 43% up from 18% in 2004.

Obama overwhelmingly got the 18-24 year old bloc (60% vs 22% for Clinton). The 18-29 year old bloc was split, with Clinton having a 2% advantage over Obama (37% Clinton, 35% Obama). If anything, the Clinton win gives the youth vote community an opportunity to tell the story that young people can and must be found on and off campus. Only about 25% of young people are in college, so if you want the youth vote you have to go where they live and where they hang out.

In last few days of the campaign, Clinton was able to appeal to working class young people with her message of Obama living in the clouds and she is working in the trenches. With this basic point, the Clinton campaign went after the 25-29 year old block.

We also can't overlook her moment of tears. Some will say it was contrived, but it seems women ages 25-29 looked at that as first time Clinton showed that politics is about passion, not just a job. Young women in this age group are working on their early careers, struggling with making it and probably have had moments like Clinton had in the coffee shop. They may have said to themselves "yeah, I know how that feels when you work your butt off, try your best and it doesn't seem to work out." So they gave her another shot with their votes.

The good news for young voters is both campaigns-and I would bet Edwards as well-are looking at how much they are investing in their youth programs. We will be watching how the candidates talk about young voters, talk to young voters and what their GOTV efforts look like in Nevada and South Carolina and leading into Super Tuesday.

Young voters now have to decide-are they "fired up" and "ready to go" or do they jump on the "experience" bus. At the very least, the campaigns will have to retool their youth programs to reach the youth communities in Nevada and South Carolina. South Carolina has a large African American population and Nevada has large Latino pollution two parts of the youth community that in 2004 voted in record numbers for Democrats. We are confident Democrats will win the youth vote, 80% of young people in Iowa and 61% in New Hampshire voted for Democrats. The only question we have is which Democrat will they go for?

Jane Fleming Kleeb is the Executive Director of the Young Voter PAC which helps Democratic candidates and State Parties win with the 18-35 year-old vote through endorsements, on-the-ground support, training, strategy and money. She is a regular on Fox and is part of MTV’s Street Team ‘08 representing Nebraska.