Why the Youth Vote Mattered in Obama Reelection

Young people were a key demographic in 2012. Here’s why they didn’t pick Romney. By Abby Haglage and Lizzie Crocker.

This year, America lost faith in the youth vote. Headlines bemoaned a lack of enthusiasm on college campuses, deemed youths ignorant on policy, and invalidated their opinions altogether. An October poll by the Pew Research Center said young voters were “significantly less engaged in this year’s election than at a comparable point in 2008.” Pollsters and pundits alike claimed that the youth vote had lost its significance, and youth voters their desire to vote.

They were wrong.

It turns out that 18- to 29-year-olds did vote—and in record numbers. At 19 percent of the electorate, youths represented a greater portion of the voting sector than they did in 2008, a record-breaking year.

America was surprised to see youths come out to vote. But even more shocking was how many—amid a recession, surging unemployment rates, and a deficit of unprecedented proportions—voted to reelect President Obama. After all, he had failed to deliver the changes he’d so confidently promised four years ago. Young people needed a new hero, and for a while it seemed as if they’d found one in Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor made Obama’s weaknesses his strengths—promising jobs, a more stable economy, and reduced taxes. Disillusioned by Obama’s shortcomings, a reliably liberal youth demographic suddenly changed its tune.

Alex Ducas, 24, voted for Obama in 2008 but lost his confidence in the president over the past four years. “I voted for Romney because I believed he would be better suited to deal with the deficit, create jobs, and because of his emphasis on giving more power to state governments,” said Ducas, who lives in Massachusetts.

Similar narratives could be heard across the country.

Lucas DeNardo, a 21-year-old political-science major at the University of Colorado in Boulder, gave Romney his vote solely because of the GOP nominee’s business experience and economic prowess. “I’m a socially liberal Independent. Some people even call me a Libertarian. But I think this election was all about the economy, and I was confident Mitt Romney could turn it around,” said DeNardo.

If the election was, as DeNardo said, “all about the economy,” the outcome would likely have been different. Instead, Obama walked away with 60 percent of the youth vote—and with it, the election.

GOP strategist Chuck Warren summed it up in an email to clients Wednesday: “To be frank, we’re a Mad Men Party in a Modern Family world.”

In the end, the Republican Party’s failure to progress on social issues was a deal-breaker for America’s youths.

Missy Tranter, a 24-year-old Washington, D.C., resident raised in a Republican family, said the GOP’s archaic social mores are the reason the party lost her vote, along with those of thousands of others. “It’s 2012. The Apple mentality is taking over,” she said. “The GOP’s outdated social views make it the equivalent of a PC.”

The GOP’s base shrinkage has only been exacerbated by incendiary, even outrageous comments from the likes of Republicans Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (both of whom lost their Senate bids). Bottom line: the Republican Party has fallen behind in a rapidly changing country.

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“Obama’s views are certainly more aligned with the majority vote on social issues than those of his Republican counterpart,” said Katie Lazares, 25, of Massachusetts. “Do I think he’s the ideal president? Honestly, no. But he is absolutely the lesser of two evils in this election. And given the way our society continues to shift over time, he sure as hell is more equipped to lead our nation than Mitt Romney.”