While political analysts too often divide the electorate into tiny monolithic voting blocks for nothing more than the ease of discussion, the Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan primaries reveal that the “youth vote” really does matter. Americans age 18 to 29 have represented a significant percentage of all caucus voters in the primaries thus far, 18% in Iowa, 16% in New Hampshire and 15% in Michigan, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
Barack Obama has overwhelmingly won the Democratic youth vote in Iowa and New Hampshire (and arguably in Michigan too, as more young people voted for “uncommitted” than Hillary Clinton). Young Republican citizens voted for Mike Huckabee in Iowa, John McCain in New Hampshire and Mitt Romney (although by a small margin) in Michigan. The Republican youth vote is up for grabs—and grabbing it is exactly what the GOP candidates should try to do in the upcoming primaries.
GOP candidates should follow the lead of the Democratic candidates by paying more attention to young voters—not only because they have already made a difference in the primaries, but also because their recent increases in election day voting turnout suggests they will play an even bigger role in the 2008 election. The national youth voter turnout rate was 49% in 2004, jumping 9% between the 2000 to the 2004 presidential elections, and representing the highest youth voter participation in over a decade, according to CIRCLE. This was the greatest increase among any age group between 2000 and 2004. In 2004, young voters age 18 to 29 were registered to vote at the highest rate in 30 years and actually cast 16% of the votes.
This increase in voting by young people is not limited to presidential races. In the 2006 congressional elections, the voter turnout rate among 18 to 29 year-olds increased by three percentage points from the 2002 congressional elections, representing 11.2% of all votes, according to CIRCLE. Recent elections show a trend of young people becoming more and more likely to vote, and the GOP candidates should encourage, embrace and harness this civic-mindedness.
Republican candidates should also reach-out to young voters because they are a potentially huge untapped voting block. As compared to about a 70% turnout rate for other age groups in 2004, the 49% voting turnout among youth leaves the candidates much room for growth. With the ease of voting, there is no compelling reason why young people should not be voting at the same rates as the rest of the population. The GOP candidates should look beyond persuading habitual voters and try to capture those who do not normally vote. And the youth vote provides a promising place to do so.