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Young Voters in 2012: Top Issues and Vote Choice of a Diverse Electorate

In two new fact sheets we provide in-depth analysis of differences between younger and older voters, and between young voters of different identities.

An estimated 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in the 2012 presidential election, and youth voter turnout was 50 percent of those (18-to-29) eligible to vote. Turnout was very close to the 2008 rate of 52 percent, indicating that youth held steady in their participation.

In two new fact sheets, we explore the 2012 youth vote in greater depth. The first fact sheet summarizes youth participation in the 2012 election, including CIRCLE’s exclusive turnout analysis as well as major findings from the 2012 National Exit Polls conducted by Edison Research. In a second fact sheet, we focus on the diverse nature of the youth electorate. Although young people favored President Obama, their level of support for him varied greatly by gender and race, ranging from 98% among Black women to 41% among White men. We take a deeper look at how young men and women voters of different racial backgrounds voted, why they chose to vote the way they did, and how they differed from other groups.

Young Voters in 2012

Our analysis in the first fact sheet includes data on:

  • Perceived Effectiveness of Candidates in Key Policy Areas: Young voters clearly expressed that they felt Obama was better able than Romney to handle a range of policy areas, including the federal deficit, the economy, international crises and healthcare.
  • Party Identification and Ideology: Young voters were most likely to identify as members of the Democratic Party (44% versus 38% of all voters). Moreover, young people were more likely to identify as “Independent or Something Else” (30%) than as Republicans (26%). The ideological leanings of young voters stayed consistent from 2008, with only 26 percent identifying as conservative (the same as in 2008), and 33 percent considering themselves liberal (32% in 2008).
  • House Vote Preferences: Young people were evenly divided in their preferences for House candidates until 2004, when they started to prefer Democrats for the House of Representatives. By 2008, there was a 27-point gap between their support for Democratic and Republican candidates.  This gap shrank to 17-points in 2010 but increased to 21 points in 2012.
  • Differences between the Young Voters and Older Voters on Key Issues: Overall young voters were more liberal than voters 30+ on a range of social and fiscal issues.
  • The Youngest Voters (18-to-24 year-olds): The younger members of the cohort were more willing to blame the economy on George Bush (67%). By 12 points, the youngest voters had a more optimistic outlook on the economy than their older peers. 18-to-24 year-olds were less polarized about abortion, with only a 23-point spread between those wanting it to be legal and illegal.  The spread for 25-to-29 year olds was 44 points.

A Diverse Electorate

The second fact sheet, focused on the diversity of the youth electorate, highlights the following:

  • Young White women’s influence in the youth electorate has decreased since 2008, while Hispanic influence has increased: 42% of young voters were persons of color, and for the first time, the Hispanic youth vote share surpassed the Black youth vote share. In 2008, the Hispanic youth vote represented 14% of the youth electorate. This year, it increased to 18%. Asian-American voters represented five percent of the youth vote in 2012.
  • Young Black and Hispanic women provided the strongest support for President Obama. A majority admired him, much as they did in 2008.
  • Young women voters were more liberal and supportive of President Obama than their male counterparts of the same race. Young Hispanic women voters were the most likely to identify as ideologically liberal of all groups. Compared to older Hispanic voters, they were more liberal and less likely to be religious.
  • Young White women, the most influential youth constituency because of their size and turnout, were split in half on many issues that challenge our nation, including their choice for president, their view of the government, and abortion.
  • Young White men, as a group, held a quite different view of the President, the role of the government, and how to move forward with immigration reform than all the other groups. They were unhappy with the economy and wanted Governor Romney to improve the economy.
  • Young Hispanic men cast 9% of youth votes, up from 6% in 2008. Among the minority groups, they were most likely to affiliate with the Republican party or consider themselves independents, but two-thirds of them voted for President Obama.
  • Although a majority of young Black male voters supported President Obama again, a larger portion of them voted for the Republican candidate this year than the same group did in 2008.  Young Black men voters were somewhat more conservative, younger and more likely to identify as Republicans or Independents in 2012 than in 2008.  They were less likely to vote for Obama than young Black women this year, but Black men voters were already less excited about Obama than Black women voters back in 2008, implying a lasting gender gap in enthusiasm among young Black voters.