This story was written by Allie Lowe, The Dartmouth
Youth voters came out for this year's New Hampshire primary in dramatically higher numbers than in past contests, as 53,000 more voters under the age of 30 headed to the polls than in 2004 . On Tuesday, the youth vote revived Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., ailing campaign and helped Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., secure a close second-place finish.
Forty-three percent of eligible New Hampshire voters under age 30 participated in Tuesday's vote, a dramatic increase from the 18 and 28 percent participation rates in the 2004 and 2000 primaries, according to a report by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a nonpartisan research center that studies youth civic engagement.
Obama received 60 percent of the 18 to 24-year old vote in the state, while Clinton received 22 percent of this demographic. Among voters aged 25 to 29, Clinton narrowly beat out Obama, gaining 27 percent of the vote to Obama's 25 percent.
Clinton was dominant among older voters, gaining the highest share in every category of voters over age 40, including 48 percent among voters 65 and older. Obama received 32 percent of the votes from this group.
On the Republican side, McCain won the youth vote, earning 27 percent of the 18 to 24-year old vote and besting Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who gained the next highest share with 19 percent. McCain garnered the highest percentage of votes among every age division except those voters 65 and older, a group that tended to vote in favor of former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.
The stark contrast between statewide outcomes and the results according to exit polls in Hanover and Durham County, which is home to the University of New Hampshire, have revealed the importance of the youth vote to Obama's campaign. In comparison to his 36.4 percent tally in the state as a whole, which left him just short of Clinton's 39 percent, Obama garnered 48 percent of the vote in Durham, besting Clinton's 30 percent.
In Hanover, where Dartmouth students comprise of approximately half the population, this difference was even more striking, as Obama gained 58 percent of the vote to Clinton's 26 percent.
An exit poll conducted by The Dartmouth that surveyed 351 voters leaving the Hanover polls indicates that the war in Iraq and health care were among the issues most important to Hanover voters. The exit polls measured votes to within three percent of official results,
Obama's support among students was critical in eliminating Clinton's previous commanding lead in the state, Dartmouth government professor Dean Lacy said.
"Student voters played an incredibly strong role for Senator Obama," Lacy said. "He made up a 15 point deficit in the polls as of just a few weeks ago."
Dartmouth government professor Linda Fowler, while noting that she had not yet examined exit poll data, said the early date for this year's primary may have deterred a number of potential student voters. Most students have not yet returned to UNH, which will commence its spring semester classes on Jan. 22.
Fowler also pointed out that the lack of time allowed for registration efforts may have affected turnout among students. In past years a later primary date allowed registration efforts to take place several days before the vote, but this year, many students were forced to register on the day of the primaries, which caused long lines at the Hanover polls.
"Maybe it wasn't the difference between a win and a loss, but it would have probably put [Obama] closer," Fowler said.
McCain's support among younger voters, Lacy said, likely came as a surprise to Paul's campaign, which had been banking on securing a large percentage of the student vote.
"On the Republican side, I think more younger Republicans look to [McCain] as a long-time party leader who is also abit of an independent," Lacy said. "Ron Paul's message just hasn't caught on with younger Republicans as much as the Paul campaign had hoped."
Jennifer Bandy '09, vice president of the Dartmouth College Republicans, said McCain's popularity among Dartmouth voters may have been correlated to McCain's multiple visits to Dartmouth's campus, which she called "emblematic" of his efforts to court New Hampshire's overall youth vote.
"I'm not surprised. He made the effort to come by twice," Bandy said, pointing to McCain's most recent visit on Monday. "We haven't had visits from other candidates as recently."
McCain's support among young voters represents a departure from a Republican party that has struggled to court young voters in the wake of the current administration, Fowler said.
"McCain's support among young people was kind of an anomaly - but then again he's not a typical Republican candidate." Fowler said, adding that McCain is a more conservative candidate than some voters may realize.
Tuesday's high youth voter turnout mirrors youth voter increases in Iowa, where participation in the caucuses rose from 4 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in this year's contest. In 2000, Iowa saw only two percent of youth participation in its caucuses, CIRCLE reported.
"The broader story here is the huge increase in the youth vote in general," Mike Heslin '08, president of the New Hampshire College Democrats, said.
There has been controversy over the role of student voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire in recent years.
In 2006, New Hampshire legislation that would have made it far more difficult for students to establish domicile in the state, was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H., after lobbying by Dartmouth students.
In April 2007, the New Hampshire Senate passed two bills that solidified students' right to vote in the state after establishing domicile.
At Dartmouth, Heslin pointed to the efforts of both campaigns and student groups as major contributors to Tuesday's high youth turnout.
"And the students themselves can't go overlooked," Heslin said. "When it comes down to it they were the ones who had to go to the polls and cast those votes."
© 2008 The Dartmouth via U-WIRE