New Takes On Young Voters

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2008 file photo, actor Gary Coleman appears on the the NBC "Today" program in New York.
AP Photo
Anthony Salvanto and Michael Butterworth of the CBS News Survey Unit wrote this piece.
Before the election, we heard a lot of speculation about the youth vote — the under-30 crowd that was going to storm the polls in record numbers and give the election to John Kerry. So when he lost, a lot of people started wondering where that youth vote went.

It turns out, a lot of it went exactly where we thought it would — to the polls.

First, let's set the record straight. In a first glance of the exit polls, it might seem easy to say the youth vote didn't increase, because 18-29-year-olds were 17 percent of the Election Day vote, the same percent share as in 2000. But that's not the best way to look at it: The overall electorate was larger this year, at about 120 million voters in early estimates, up from some 105 million last time. So, that 17 percent share of it today represents a whole lot more people, a big increase in raw numbers over 2000.

For 2004, we estimate there were more than 20 million young (age 18-29) voters out of that 120 million nationwide, compared to just under 18 million out of 105 million voters in 2000. In other words, the youth vote did indeed show up in bigger numbers this time. And so did plenty of other people, too.

What impact did they have? Most of them voted for Kerry (54 percent to 45 percent for President Bush nationwide), and so it's tempting to be practical and say not much, since he lost anyway. But that, too, isn't the full story. Young voters may have delivered Kerry at least one critical state. For example — Pennsylvania.

In the Keystone state, we estimate that 18-29 year old turnout increased by about 75 percent over four years ago. By comparison, the total turnout in Pennsylvania was up 16 percent.

Under-30 voters in Pennsylvania made up 21 percent of turnout this year and backed Kerry, 60 percent to 39 percent for Mr. Bush. Kerry ended up winning the state by about a two percent margin, which made the overall election competitive for quite a while; had he not squeaked that one out, we all would have gotten a lot more sleep Tuesday night.

It's also important to note that while this was a pro-Kerry and more liberal bunch, it wasn't exclusively that. The 18-29-year-olds this year were indeed more liberal than any other age group (31 percent were liberal; no other age group was more than 20 percent). But 43 percent called themselves moderates, just about the same rate as everyone else.

And thinking ahead, let's take a quick look at all the young voters who just joined the voting ranks this week. First-time voters under 30 were composed of just as many liberals as conservatives, and also predominately (46 percent) moderate. Neither party has a monopoly on them either: 38 percent were Democrats, 34 percent called themselves Republicans and 28 percent independents or something else.

So it looks like there's plenty of division within their ranks, too. Welcome to the electorate, kids. Guess you'll fit right in.
By Michael Butterworth and Anthony Salvanto, CBS News Survey Unit