In an election year full of doubt about the reliability of the unpredictable youth turnout, young voters across the nation cast their ballots by the millions, possibly indicating a renewed sense of voter responsibility nationwide.
National turnout among voters ages 18 to 29 was about 23 million, a new report estimates.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a research group based at Tufts University that studies new voters, used exit polling data to estimate that between 49.3 and 54.5 percent of young Americans cast ballots Tuesday, as compared to 48 percent in 2004 and 41 percent in 2000.
By contrast, early estimates show that about 64 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls.
I should note that these are preliminary reports that youre seeing, but all signs are pointing to yes, youth voter turnout is up, and its going to be higher than 2004, CIRCLE spokesman David Roscow said.
CIRCLE also calculated that the percentage of young voters out of the entire voting population had gone up about 1 percent from the previous three national elections.
At USCs four main polling places Marks Tower, Our Savior Catholic Center, Roger Williams Baptist Church and Abundant Life Christian Church about 53 percent of registered voters cast ballots, according to semifinal official canvas results from Los Angeles Countys Registrar-Recorder/County Clerks Office.
That number does not include the hundreds of absentee or provisional ballots cast on Election Day.
This years youth turnout, which could be the second highest since 1972, might be the result of gradually rising civic interest among young voters, rather than a sudden surge of participation.
If you look at whats happened over the last elections including the midterm in 2006 and the primary election this year, this is a trend with new voters, Roscow said.
John Legittino, senior director of communications for Undergraduate Student Government, which helped organize the VoteSCount voter registration drive, said he thought the university had become more politically active since two years ago, when a relatively small crowd gathered to watch new President-elect Barack Obama speak on campus.
I had my doubts sitting at the registration booth, but I was amazed by how many people registered to vote. And I was even more amazed by the long lines on Election Day, he said. I asked everyone I saw that day if theyd voted, and only one person hadnt.
It is still too early to tell exactly how considerably youth turnout increased this election, said Sheilah Mann, a former director of education and professional development for the American Political Science Association.
She said it was more significant to look at the degree toward which the youth vote leaned to one candidate and the amount of activism and enthusiasm young voters displayed, noting that college students had been at the forefront of efforts like registration drives and trips to swing states.
Maybe whats at least as significant as the actual turnout is the leadership taken by younger Americans in this election, she said. The young can no longer be characterized as apathetic, and I think now we all have a different view of them as people who are engaged, at least a visible segment of them.
Almost two-thirds of young voters went for Obama, while slightly less than one-third voted for Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, CIRCLE found.
I think that what weve already seen is an underlying trend apart from turnout, that younger Americans were identifying at a greater rate as Democrats than Republicans in the past few years, Mann said.In terms of vote choice, there was much more likelihood that newly registered voters would select Obama.
At USCs four main polling places, about 18 percent of the votes cast were for McCain, and almost 80 percent for Obama, semifinal official canvas results show.
Lets be real here, Obama appeals to most young people more than McCain does, Roscow said.
Experts were hopeful that increased youth voting would continue into the future.
We can say that we are getting a younger generation thats going to be more engaged and not continue the trend of each successive generation of Americans being less and less engaged since the World War II generation, Mann said.
This is a real opportunity for young people and for our organizations and political candidates to build on the momentum of the election and get young people more involved in the community and in politics, he said. Theres always talk that the youths will come out, but I think now people understand that the youth has come out and the power that young voters have.