by Chris Bowers, Thu Sep 02, 2004 at 01:58:07 PM EDT
If John Kerry wins this election, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will be on the strength of the major demographic (18-29 year-olds made up 17% of the 2000 vote) that has swung more dramatically against Bush since 2000 than any other. According to 2000 exit polls, 18-29 year olds broke 48% for Gore, 46% for Bush, and 6% other. This is only slightly different from the nation as a whole, which went 48.38% Gore, 47.87% Bush, and 3.75% other. However, Bush's current numbers among 18-29 year-olds are far lower than his numbers with the nation as a whole:
Bush Support in Recent Polls 18-29 Total Date Pew 35 45 8/10 Newsweek 32 42 7/30There is also this piece of information form a recent Washington Post article (emphasis mine): In the latest Post-ABC News poll, taken immediately after the Democratic National Convention, Kerry led Bush 2 to 1 among registered voters younger than 30. Among older voters, the race was virtually tied. About 1 in 6 voters in 2000 was between 18 and 29 years old. [Kerry led 52-45 nationally among RVs in that poll] (...)
Bush's problems with younger voters began long before the Democratic convention, Post-ABC polls suggest. The last time Bush and Kerry were tied among the under-30 crowd was in April. In the five surveys since then, Bush has trailed Kerry by an average of 18 percentage points. [In those five polls Kerry led by an average of 5 points nationally]This race is static except for voters under 30. They are the persuadables, the swingers, the undecideds. They are not polarized like the rest of the nation.
In 2000, one of the main reasons Gore was unable to put Bush away is because he lost the younger voters Clinton had won for Democrats for the first time since the 1970's. In fact, that is the only significant pro-Clinton demographic where Gore noticeably under-performed relative to the national popular vote. Clinton won victories far in excess his national popular victories in this demographic in 1996, and in 1992 Bush barely defeated Perot among the 18-29 set. Had Gore equaled the 10-12% partisan advantage Clinton held among 18-29 year olds, he would have won the popular vote by 2.2-2.5% instead of 0.5%. That is enough to take Florida, probably New Hampshire, and maybe even Nevada.
It is easy for pundits to dismiss young voters both because no pundit is between 18-29 and because young people generally do not turn out to vote at significant rates. However, even though turnout was low among this group in 2000, it was still 17% of the vote! Further, as the same WP article quoted above notes, 18-29 year olds are as volatile a swing group as you can find:Dole lost to President Bill Clinton by 53 percent to 34 percent among 18-to-29-year-olds. Bush's father split the young vote in 1988 and lost to Clinton by nine points in 1992. The Reagan era marked the recent high-water mark for the GOP with younger voters, who gave the Gipper his biggest victory margin of any age group in 1984. Any voting demographic that is large is important (17% of the vote in 2000). Any voting group that is volatile and prone to large swings is important (voted overwhelmingly for Reagan and Clinton; swung ten points from 1996 to 2000). Any voting group that turns out in wildly varying degrees is important (over 50% turnout in 1992, under 40% turnout in 2000). Any voting group that has changed significantly while the rest of the country remains polarized and static is important (10-15 point swing since 2000). The 18-29 year old demographic has every single criteria that makes a demographic important in this election. This cannot be said about any other demographic to the same degree.
If Kerry is going to win in November, he must continue his success in reaching young voters. Strike that--he must continue to do even more to reach them, even to excite them. Gore ignored young voters in 2000 and paid the price. Clinton openly wooed them and governed for eight years.