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Youth vote analysis offers some surprises

Some numbers confirm conventional wisdom about young and minority voters, but others suggest Millennials can’t be pigeonholed.

A new report suggests that notoriously tough-to-pigeonhole Millennials have surprises to deliver at the ballot box.
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig

There’s a fascinating report out this week analyzing the 23 million votes Americans ages 18 to 30 cast on Nov. 6. Drawing on national exit polling by Edison Research, Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) has broken down information about young voters’ motivations and attitudes by race, gender and education.

Strategists on both sides of the aisle should read every page and think about their playbooks. Some of the numbers confirm conventional wisdom about young and minority voters, but others suggest that notoriously tough-to-pigeonhole Millennials have surprises to deliver at the ballot box.

The top takeaways: African-American women were most likely to vote for Barack Obama at 98 percent vs. 41 percent of young white men. Young Latina voters were the most liberal of the groups surveyed for “Diverse Electorate:  A Deeper Look into the Millennial Vote.” [PDF]

Also clear: The electorate is increasingly diverse and low-income, and young voters increasingly identify themselves as Democrats (44 percent vs. 38 percent of all voters) or Independents (30 percent) over Republican (26 percent).

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“A larger percentage of the youth electorate in 2012, when compared to 2008, self-identified as Latino/Hispanic, Black, or lesbian, gay or bisexual,” the CIRCLE report noted. “Over half (58 percent) of young voters were part of families that had incomes under $50,000 in 2011, and nearly a third of young voters (32 percent) had family incomes under $30,000 in 2011.  These are both significantly higher percentages than for older voters.”

The report comes on the heels of a local analysis that showed youth in Minnesota voted in record numbers, and overwhelmingly against both amendments. Some 79 percent voted against the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and 69 percent voted against the proposed voting amendment,

According to the CIRCLE analysis of exit-poll data, the highest percentage of votes cast against a candidate, vs. in favor of one, were young white men who came out to vote against Obama at 63 percent, compared with 38 percent against Romney. And 54 percent favor the repeal of Obamacare.

Compared with just 23 percent of the youth electorate four years ago, 34 percent of young white men felt that their family’s financial situations were worse now. Forty-one percent of young white men thought that the U.S. economic system is fair to most people compared to 34 percent of youth overall and 33 percent of white women.

Even though young men of color held social values similar to women of color, they were more likely to vote for conservative candidates. Only half thought the economy is getting better, and one-third thought that Romney would handle the deficits and economy better. By contrast, 59 percent of young women of color felt optimistic about the economy.

Young white men were most likely to vote for Romney; 60 percent support abortion and 66 percent support same-sex marriage in their states, the same percentage as youth overall. Forty-one percent support deporting undocumented immigrants and 52 percent thought they should be able to apply for legal status.

Young white women were split 48 percent for Obama and 49 percent for Romney. Thirty-eight percent of this group identified as evangelical and 43 percent opposed abortion, compared with 32 percent of the youth electorate. Twenty percent said abortion should be illegal in “all cases.”

Women of color cast 19 percent of the youth votes, compared with 16 percent by young male voters of color. “They may be more difficult to reach by traditional campaign outreach strategies,” the report noted. “Seventy percent of them only had cell phones and 37 percent were non-college youth. Furthermore, they were not likely to be at places of worship regularly (just 25 percent said they attend religious service weekly or more) and only a small portion of them (17 percent) belonged to unions. In other words, young men of color were generally not in places that campaigns traditionally reach out to.”

Also interesting, support for Obama is still strong among young African-American men but has softened.

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Two-thirds of young people who have attended any college voted, vs. one third of those who have not attended college. Young non-college voters were more ethnically diverse and much more likely to describe themselves as evangelical Christians.

“Among youth without college experience, 27% said that Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy was the most important factor in their vote for president, compared to 10% of youth with college experience,” CIRCLE reported. “This suggests that Obama’s response was critical in swaying nearly a third of the non-college youth vote. Current events may have played an important role for this group of youth without college experience, who decided on their vote within a month of the Election.”