This election saw record numbers of new registrants across the country as both the Bush and Kerry campaign undertook Herculean efforts to get new voters to the polls.
CBS News exit poll data suggest that these efforts paid off as new voters made up a larger proportion of the electorate, and had a significant impact on the results of 2004 presidential election.
This year, 11 percent of the electorate was comprised of first-time voters, compared to nine percent in each of the past two presidential elections. This conceals, though, much larger proportions of new voters in battleground states where the campaigns were focusing their efforts to add citizens to the voter rolls. New voters comprised 13 percent of the electorate in Florida, 14 percent in Nevada and 15 percent in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Nationwide, new voters clearly benefited John Kerry. Kerry received 54 percent of the vote to President Bush's 45 percent. This continues a trend that began under Bill Clinton, in which the Democratic candidate has secured a greater proportion of this group.
Considering the near-even split of the national popular vote, though, it would appear that new voters played little role in Mr. Bush's re-election.
But the real story requires a much closer look. Examining exits polls in nine key battleground states reveals that the success of the Mr. Bush campaign in diminishing the size of the Kerry lead among this group of voters appeared to affect their ability to win the state.
In states where the advantage for Kerry among new voters was less than 15 points, Mr. Bush won the state. In states where the advantage for Kerry among new voters was greater than 15 points, Mr. Bush lost the state.
Mr. Bush emerged victorious overall in Ohio, winning 46 percent of new voters to Kerry's 54 percent, an eight-point differential. The vote differential favored Kerry by six points in Colorado, and thirteen in Florida, all states Mr. Bush won in this election. Moreover, the vote differential favored Kerry by only one point in Iowa and two in New Mexico, where Mr. Bush was leading but winners had not yet to been declared.
Conversely, Kerry won Pennsylvania overall, securing 60 percent of new voters compared to 40 percent for Mr. Bush, a twenty-point differential. The vote differential favored Kerry by seventeen in Wisconsin, twenty-four in Minnesota, and thirty-four in Michigan, all states that Kerry defeated Mr. Bush.
Nationwide, new voters were predominantly young, with 64 percent of them between 18 and 29 years old. Eighteen percent of them were black and sixteen percent were Hispanic, compared to twelve and nine percent respectively in the population.
Disproportionate numbers of new voters favored Kerry. Nonetheless, the Bush campaign was still able to have an impact by successfully registering and turning out new voters in important swing states.
The CBS News exit polls were conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool. Results are based on 13,531 voters exiting the polls across the nation, and have a margin of error of two percentage points.
Samuel J. Best is director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis and an associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of a book and numerous articles on public opinion and survey methods. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.