September 28, 2012
Young voters are tuning out the 2012 presidential campaign and fewer have registered to vote than four years ago, when young adults were a key element of Barack Obama’s coalition. But several factors could limit Mitt Romney’s ability to benefit from those trends, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.
The study found, for example, that the drop-off in young-voter engagement in this year’s election has been even greater among those who plan to vote Republican than it is among Democrats. At the same time, moderate Republicans of all ages are less engaged. That tends to mitigate the potential effect on Obama’s prospects by the drop in enthusiasm among his younger supporters, Pew’s analysis concluded. In addition, other parts of the Obama base — especially African Americans — remain strongly engaged.
Additional findings in the analysis include:
Young-voter registration is down. Only half of voting-age Americans younger than 30 are absolutely certain that they are registered to vote, the independent organization’s polls have found. That compares with registration levels of 61 percent in 2008 and 57 percent in 2004. Those “figures will have to shift decidedly over the coming month” if young voters are to come close to matching the levels from recent presidential elections, the analysis concludes.
Fewer young adults are tuning in election news or planning to vote. Among those who are registered to vote, 63 percent of those age 18 to 29 say they definitely plan to cast a ballot this year. That’s a 9-percentage-point decline from the same age group at this stage of the 2008 campaign. By contrast, 91 percent of voters age 65 and up — Romney’s strongest age demographic — say they definitely plan to vote. That’s a 4-percentage-point increase from 2008. The Republican nominee is holding his own nationally among those 65 and older, according to recent Gallup Poll data. It shows that Romney’s advantage among those 65 and up is 8 percentage points, the same margin by which McCain carried that age group in 2008. At the same time, though, other polling suggests that the Medicare issue is helping Obama in swing states, and in particular with those old enough to qualify for the program.
Obama’s support is down among young whites. White voters younger than 30 are evenly split, 47 percent to 47 percent, between Obama and Romney, Pew found. In 2008, Obama held a 10-point advantage over John McCain in that age group. Largely as a consequence of that drop, the president’s lead over Romney among all voters in the 18-29 age bracket is smaller (by 7 percentage points) than his 2008 margin. Exit polling in the 2008 election showed that those younger than 30 favored Obama by 66 percent to 32 percent over McCain. In Pew’s surveys between April and September, his lead over Romney in that age group is 59 percent to 35 percent. Data from the Gallup poll during the first three weeks of September is virtually identical. It shows Obama leading by 58 percent to 33 percent among registered voters 18 to 29 years old.