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Young Voters Key In Obama's 2012 Win


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This is the season when political professionals try to make sense of the last election. Plenty of Republicans have been calling for their party to take a new approach to immigration after the Hispanic vote went overwhelmingly to President Obama.

And there's another big group of interest. You could hear a hint of it yesterday, when Republican Senator John McCain said on a Sunday TV talk show that if a person like him wanted to appeal to young women, he needed to talk differently about abortion.

Young voters had been expected to participate less this year than in 2008, but their turnout remained high and they voted for President Obama as well.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on a new analysis of voters under 30.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Over the last year, both presidential candidates went gunning for a piece of the young voter action. It seemed like there was a college campus rally almost every day. Mitt Romney said he was the guy to create jobs and cut deficits. His campaign thought both of those points would appeal to folks just starting their professional lives.

MITT ROMNEY: I think young voters in this country have to vote for me if they're really thinking about what's in the best interest of the country and what's in their personal best interest.

SHAPIRO: That message clicked for some people, like college senior Michael Stouffer of Iowa.

MICHAEL STOUFFER: Well, when I see the number of unemployment in my age group, 18 to 29-year-olds, is that that it's almost up to 13 percent now, it's a little frightening.

SHAPIRO: President Obama took a more personal approach. At the University of North Carolina, he said he and the first lady had recently been where these students are now.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When we graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt, both of us. That means when we got married we got poorer together.


OBAMA: We added our assets together and they were zero. And then we added our liabilities together and they were a lot.

SHAPIRO: The president also talked about specific steps he took in his first term to help young people, from health care to college loans. That resonated with Alejandra Salinas, president of the College Democrats, who attended the Democratic Convention in Charlotte.

ALEJANDRA SALINAS: The fact that, you know, he has doubled Pell Grants is one of the main issues that affects me, just because I get Pell Grants and I know that if Pell Grants weren't available, there's no way I would be in college right now.

SHAPIRO: In a way, these two college students - Stouffer and Salinas - perfectly capture the way their age group behaved on Election Day. White young voters favored Mitt Romney by seven points. Young voters of color chose President Obama overwhelmingly.

Michael Dimock produced the Pew Research Center's new analysis of the youth vote.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: A big factor in why the youth vote is so favorable to Obama is its demographics - 18 to 29-year-old voters in this year's exit poll were 42 percent non-white and 58 percent white. That's a far higher proportion. Only a quarter of voters over 30 were non-white.

SHAPIRO: In 2008, President Obama carried two-thirds of the youth vote. This year he slipped a little but still won 60 percent of this group. Dimock says that margin decided the election.

DIMOCK: So without the support of 18 to 29-year-old voters he would have lost Ohio, he would have lost Florida. He would have lost Virginia, Pennsylvania. He would have lost the Electoral College vote if it weren't for the strong backing he had from younger voters.

SHAPIRO: The real shocker was the number of young people who showed up on Election Day. Pollster John Della Volpe of Harvard has studied the youth vote for a decade.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: My expectation was that youth participation would be at about a 48 to 49 percent level based on our last survey which was conducted a good month or so before the election. And what we saw from non-swing states, that's about what happened.

SHAPIRO: But in the swing states, turnout was 10 points higher. Della Volpe attributes that to the Obama turnout machine, which cranked up in those states. You could hear that strategy play out at this Obama campaign stop at Colorado State.

OBAMA: We've set up a Rocky Mountain rumble to see which school can register more voters.

And you guys can get a head start by registering right here, right now. We've got volunteers all throughout the audience. Volunteers, raise your hand there.

SHAPIRO: Now Republicans are asking themselves what they can do to win back the millennial generation - and Democrats are wondering whether the young love they're enjoying is meant for them or only for the president who won't be on the ballot again.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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