By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Although youth are credited with helping President Obama defeat Mitt Romney on Election Day, the president would not have carried that bloc of voters if Black youth had not supported him in overwhelming numbers, according to exit polls.
Obama carried the 18-24 age group over Romney 60 percent to 36 percent and the 25-29 bracket 60 percent to 38. However, Whites in those two groups favored Romney 51 percent to 44 percent and 59 percent to 38 percent, respectively.
Blacks aged 18-29 supported the president 91 percent to 8 percent for the former Massachusetts governor, according to the exit polls. Overall, Blacks gave Obama 93 percent of their vote in this year’s election.
“A lot of people were questioning whether or not young people were going to go to the polls because they didn’t look enthusiastic,” says Kirk Clay, a voter trends analyst who previously served as the national engagement director for the NAACP. “No one believed this would happen twice in a row.” But, it did.
An estimated 23 million 18-29 year-old voters participated in the 2012 election, representing 19 percent of the overall electorate—up one point from 2008. In terms of actual numbers, voting participation in that group dropped two points to 50 percent . However, in the all-important swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida, 58 percent of eligible young voters went to the polls, according to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at Tufts University.
The increases in young-voter turnout in these states helped Obama clinch the votes that ultimately led to his re-election.
“It’s time for both parties to recognize that the future is here,” adds Clay, who is a senior adviser at PowerPAC, a political advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and California. “The strategy of expanding the electorate to include more young people proved to be more powerful in the election.”
Another key factor in Obama’s re-election was the growing diversity of the electorate, especially among young people. Latino voters age 18-29 favored President Obama 74-23, a group that represents 18 percent of young voters, larger than Latinos proportion in the entire electorate, which is 10 percent.
Young Black voters represent 17 percent of the 18-29 year-old bloc, while Black voters make up 13 percent of the total electorate.
Melanie Campbell, the president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, an organization that works to boost voter participation in the Black community, says young Black voters were energized and committed to getting out to the polls this year.
“They knew this election would impact their lives and their futures,” Campbell explains. “If you’re a young person in your child bearing years, you’re paying attention when people say rape isn’t a problem. You know the jobs that allowed your family to become middle class is Ohio are affected by the auto industry.”
In this election, 44 percent of registered voters ages 18-29 self-identified as Democrat and 33 percent identified as liberal. Twenty-six percent of voters in the same age group identify as Republican, the same number identify as conservative.
Brandon Harris, a first year law student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., says he voted for Obama because of the president’s stance on education.
“Like Obama, I believe education is necessary for social mobility, and the development of our national talent pool, which is the driving force behind all of our industries,” says Harris.
He believes Obama was able to identify with young people because he addressed issues specific to their age group. “Most young voters, are in school or looking for jobs, meaning they’re interested in financial aid and employment,” Harris says. “[President Obama] understands.”
According to exit poll data, young voters tended to be slightly more liberal on financial issues than their older counterparts, with 50 percent saying they wanted to see tax increases for those who make more than $250,000 a year, compared with 46 percent of voters over 30.
On social issues, however, the differences are more apparent. Sixty-six percent of young voters support same-sex marriage, compared to 45 percent of voters over 30.
Jessica Brown, the national coordinator for Black Youth Vote, a group funded by the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, says it’s not fair to claim that all youth are Democrats, despite their liberal leaning at the polls.
“We have a lot of youth that are Republican,” says Brown. She adds that the major issues facing young people, including education, employment, and health care, are addressed by both parties, but the messages come across differently.
“It’s not so much on what one party needs to do to appeal to a side, but it’s how the message is conveyed,” Brown says. “I really think just how the message comes across or how they communicate to voters can have an impact.”
Democrats (and those leaning in that political direction), enjoy a wide lead among Millennials, identified as persons age 18-30, over Republicans, 55 percent to 36 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
Regardless of affiliation, Brown says that this election will serve as a warning to all that young voters are a force to be reckoned with.
“I think that it shocked a lot of people that we showed up and showed out again,” Brown says. “It’s starting to show that youth actually do care. We’re not just going to sit by and let things happen, we’ll be considered as a factor for change. “
Sarah Holder, 23, voted in Maryland for the third time this election. Although she identifies as an Independent and tends to vote Republican, she voted for Obama this time around. She cites Gov. Romney’s confusing messages to voters as the reason behind her Democratic vote.
“I supported Romney in the primaries because I really liked what he had done in Massachusetts,” Holder says.
“But the Romney who ran against Obama – I wasn’t sure who he was.”
Romney’s flip-flopping on policies and what she felt were offensive attempts to appeal to Latino voters are what ultimately led to her decision to vote for President Obama. Holder says she voted for the best of “two bad choices” this election.
“I don’t think Romney knew how to relate to all voters and felt pressure from his party to lean different ways,” Holder says. “If you’re going to be that pressured by the party, you can’t handle being the president.”
Clay says young people showed up at the polls because they cared about certain issues instead of simply wanting to “be a part of history,” a key turnout factor in 2008.
“The way young people voted this year to me demonstrated a more engaged electorate,” says Clay. “This new generation of voters focuses on issues of keeping it real. Double talk, bumper sticker politics isn’t going to work. “