The Phenomenal Numbers Behind Young Voter Turnout

Rock the Vote just came out with a nice two-page fact sheet that lays out the essential numbers behind the surge in turnout for young people in the 2008 campaign. We’ve been talking a lot about this phenomenon, and we had a Rock the Vote person speak at our day-long event last Friday, but sometimes it’s nice to look at the cold, hard facts.

  • Young people from age 18 to 29 have doubled their numbers in the presidential primaries this year. This is the combined number of all youth in both parties and is measured against the last competitive primary (2004 for Dems and 2000 for Republicans).
  • If you look at individual state numbers, some of the states tripled the turnout of young people, and no state with valid numbers showed less than a 40 percent increase.

So you may say that, sure, youth turned out, but so did all kinds of groups. However, youth increased their turnout by much more than any age group. This is measured by the all-important percentage “share” of the electorate. If you consider all ages taking a slice of the pie of the electorate, the Millennial Generation’s slice grew by taking more of the pie from the slices of the other age groups.

  • In the average of all Democratic primaries, youth went from 10 percent of the 2004 primaries to 14 percent of the 2008 ones.
  • In every single state that held a Democratic primary so far, the youth “share” of the electorate went up. In Iowa, they went as high as 22 percent of the electorate.  Almost a quarter of all voters were Millennials there, in the state that started Obama’s rise.

The Republican numbers for increases in share of the youth vote are less dramatic, and in a few states they did not increase, but nevertheless, the general trend is playing out there too. Youth of all ideological stripes are more engaged in politics than we have seen in a long time, though that is particularly true on the Democratic and progressive side.

We at the New Politics Institute have been promoting this important constituency for years and it is incredibly gratifying to see this playing out so dramatically on the ground and so graphically in the numbers.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute