The youth vote played a key role in President-elect Barack Obama's win Tuesday as young voters helped carry swing states crucial to the candidate's victory.
Support for Obama was high among younger age groups but decreased among older demographics. About two-thirds of voters younger than 30 supported Obama, compared to less than half of voters older than 65, exit polls showed. Support was especially strong among black and Hispanic young people, but more than half of young white voters supported Obama as well.
"I think Barack Obama is really a candidate that speaks to young people," said events coordinator for College Democrats Michael Besser. "Politically, the campaign must have realized early on that young people are a completely under-tapped resource. They're an electorate that people think, 'Why talk to them?'... When you speak to anybody that has been ignored, they're that more receptive to you and your message."
Voter registration drives saw record numbers of young people, and Rock the Vote, a group that aims to engage young people in politics, registered more than 2.3 million voters by Oct. 26, about 900,000 more than four years ago.
The large youth numbers contributed to Obama's success in swing states. In Virginia, a traditionally Republican state that Obama carried, election officials saw a surge in registration among 18- to 25-year-olds. Ten percent more young voters were registered in July compared to the same time a year ago.
University of Marylandgroups even helped to spread the Democratic message in Virginia. College Democrats canvassed the state almost every weekend this semester, College Democrats secretary Angela Gentile said.
"[Obama's campaign manager] did an excellent job at really gearing the campaign toward the Internet,"said sophomore theatre and government and politics major David Olson, who canvassed Richmond with Students for Obama. "I think a lot of young people found that they were being included in ways that they've never been included before, because the candidates were trying to communicate with them in a way that they were very comfortable."
The surge in young voters can be attributed to youth wanting to help change the country, said Brian Lentz, coordinator of the New Voters Project of Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a public advocacy group. Lentz said his organization had registered more than 2,500 students on the campus.
"One of the main reasons people were excited about this election was because of the way the last eight years turned out under George W. Bush," he said. "Not many people were happy about that."
Obama's status as an "icon" was key in motivating young voters, Lentz, a sophomore sociology major, said.
"Among young voters, I know the excitement will carry on," Lentz said. "It's not just a one-time thing. They see that now their voice does matter, and they can make a difference, and they can shape the future. Everybody is encouraged to get out and keep the movement going. ... It didn't end last night."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.