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Young voters delivered as promised in

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 29, 2009 - One major question leading up to the 2008 presidential election was whether young voters, typically an unreliable bloc, would pack the polls as many had predicted. Nearly six months later, we have an answer.

The youth voter turnout rate was 51.1 percent of eligible voters in November, the third highest rate since the voting age was lowered, and an increase of two percentage points over 2004. About 22 million people under the age of 30 voted in this election, an increase of 2 million people from four years earlier. These estimates come from the Center for Information on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, which analyzed recent data from the U.S. Census and based its findings on all eligible voters in the 18-to-29 age group.

In Missouri, about 55 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots, compared to about 51 percent in Illinois. Voters over 30 still showed up with more regularity in both states, according to the CIRCLE data.

Young voter turnout had increased in the 2004 presidential and 2006 midterm elections following steady declines in turnout since the 1972 election, the first in which 18-year-olds could cast ballots. Youth voting rates bottomed out in 1996, and this year’s rate is 11 percentage points higher than that mark. CIRCLE data showed that an estimated 6.5 million people under 30 voted in the 2008 presidential primaries and caucuses.

"Without question, a greater percentage of younger voters between 18-29 voted in 2008 for a host of reasons (e.g., Obama's unique appeal, blogs, cell phone contacts, angry young voters intensely disliking the GOP and Bush administration)," Ken Warren, a St. Louis University political scientist and president of The Warren Poll, said in an e-mail.

But Warren said that studies of voter turnout report different statistics because turnout can be calculated in different ways. Turnout rates tend to be inflated by election boards, he said, because they tend to report percentage of registered voters who cast ballots, as opposed to percentage of eligible voters voting. The stats recorded by the Census Bureau also tend to be distorted because they rely on self-reporting in surveys of voters. He said about 14 to 17 percent of voters report voting when they in fact did not. 

With that in mind, here are some other interesting statistics:

  • Young black voters posted the highest turnout rate ever observed for any racial or ethnic group of young Americans since 1972, according to the center.
  • Education also continued to be a predictor: People with college experience turned out at a rate of 62 percent, compared to 36 percent for those without it.
  • Young women voted at a rate eight points above young men.
  • Older adults voted at lower rates than in 2004, and just slightly above their 2000 level.
  • Approximately 5 million more total votes were cast in 2008 than in the 2004 election among voters of all ages.

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