Young Voters Show Up — And Help Decide The Election

With 49.3 percent youth voter turnout, MTV News takes a look at what election-day numbers mean.

In the 2012 election, 18-29 year olds represented the largest potential voting bloc in the country, and we’ve been on the ground talking to young voters all year, starting with the Republican primaries up until Election Day.

We’ve heard all sorts of stories, to a recent Stanford graduate entering politics to Young Cons rapping about conservatism. You’ve told us what issues you care about, and we’ve brought them directly to the candidates who asked for your vote (Sway, meet Obama). Young voters were poised to tip the scales in a big way and help determine the outcome of the election.

But what do the numbers tell us?

The national voter turnout rate for 18-29 year olds was at least 49.3 percent, the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) reports, with experts predicting it could rise even higher as more data is collected. This number is slightly under the 52 percent youth voter turnout in 2008, which was the third highest since 1972. In 2008, young voters made up 18 percent of the electorate and this time, the percentage rose to 19 percent, meaning that the voices of youth voters are becoming an ever stronger part of the voting public.

MTV News catches Obama’s victory speech in Chicago!

“Confounding almost all predictions, the youth vote held up in 2012 and yet again was the deciding factor in determining which candidate was elected President of the United States,” said CIRCLE director Peter Levine.

In swing states, the youth vote played an essential part in ensuring Obama’s reelection, specifically in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and maybe Florida, which is still undeclared. If Romney had received half of the youth vote in those four states, or if young voters hadn’t turned out at all, Romney would have won those states and therefore the election. Overall, Obama won the youth vote by 60 percent to 37 percent, according to CIRCLE. Essentially, the strong youth voter turnout and youth voters’ strong preference for the incumbent helped win the election for President Obama.

From the beginning, experts had suggested voter turnout would drop for a number of reasons. As young voters actively participated in 2008′s primaries a full 18 months before Election Day, 2012 only saw young voters start to really engage about two months ago. Historically, races following open-primaries elections (like ’08) tend to see lower voter registration numbers overall. Also, in ’08, voters saw two historic candidacies as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vied to become the first female and African American president, respectively, which generated a lot of energy, especially among young voters.

MTV News watches the party wind down at Romney HQ.

This year, we’ve heard from young people that many of you have also been losing faith in elected officials, and don’t care as much about party labels as you do about solving the problems that your generation faces. Half of 18-29 year olds MTV News talked to think the government is poorly structured for their generation. However, given that young people turned out en masse and helped determine the outcome of this election, it’s clear that young people are a force to be reckoned with.

“[The election's] results hopefully put an end to the accusation of a so called ‘enthusiasm gap,’ ” said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote. “This proves that any campaign that ignores young voters does so at its own peril.”

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