Youth Turnout Up Sharply in Key Super Tuesday States

Youth turnout surged in key primary states last night, continuing a striking trend started in the first presidential contests of 2008.

“In all the noise of last night’s election, one message was heard loud and clear,” said Sujatha Jahagirdar Program Director with the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project.  “Young people are tuning in and turning out.” 

An analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) of available exit poll and turnout data found that youth turnout spiked sharply in key primary contests from Missouri to Connecticut to California.  Turnout of young voters more than doubled in Massachusetts, tripled in Georgia and more than quadrupled in Tennessee. 

In many cases, this increased turnout played a key role in shaping victories on both sides of the aisle. In Missouri, for example, Senator Obama won more than 56,000 votes from young people (18-29 year olds) – more than five times his margin of victory in the state. 

An early Student PIRG analysis of available data for thirteen ‘Super Tuesday’ states found that the youth vote played a key role on February 5th.    In eleven of fourteen states with available exit poll data, the winning Republican contender won the youth vote.   In all states won by Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois legislator won the youth vote.  In the majority of states won by Senator Hillary Clinton, the New York legislator received a significant portion of the youth vote, winning the demographic outright in Massachusetts, Arkansas and California.   

Table 1. Share of Youth Vote (18-29 year olds) Won by Democratic Candidates in Select ‘Super Tuesday’ States

State with Available Exit Poll Data and  Democratic Winner Share of Democratic  Youth Vote
Alabama – Obama Obama – 64%
Clinton – 32%
Arizona – Clinton Clinton – 37%
Obama – 59%
Arkansas – Clinton Clinton – 56%
Obama – 43%
California – Clinton Clinton – 51%
Obama – 47%
Connecticut – Obama Obama – 58%
Clinton – 39%
Georgia – Obama Obama – 75%
Clinton – 23%
Illinois – Obama Obama – 69%
Clinton – 29%
Massachusetts- Clinton Clinton – 49%
Obama – 48%
Missouri – Obama Obama – 65%
Clinton – 30%
New Jersey – Clinton Clinton – 39%
Obama – 59%
New York – Clinton Clinton – 43%
Obama – 56%
Tennessee – Clinton Clinton – 44%
Obama – 53%
Utah – Obama Obama – 70%
Clinton – 25%

Table 2.  Share of Youth Vote (18-29 year olds) Won by Republican Candidates in Select ‘Super Tuesday’ States

State Available Exit Poll Data/Winning Candidate Share of Youth Vote won by Gov. Mike Huckabee Share of Youth Vote won by Sen. John McCain Share of Youth Vote won by Gov. Mitt Romney
AL – Huckabee 51% 22% 24%
AZ – McCain 15% 32% 43%
AR – Huckabee 68% 16% 7%
CA – McCain 22% 34% 31%
CT – McCain 11% 51% 9%
GA – Huckabee 43% 23% 24%
IL – McCain 28% 30% 22%
MA – Romney 4% 36% 52%
MO – McCain 43% 27% 18%
NJ – McCain 8% 46% 19%
NY – McCain 15% 43% 21%
OK – McCain 38% 26% 28%
TN – Huckabee 38% 25% 15%
UT – Romney 2% 6% 88%

Table 3: Approximate Youth Turnout in Select ‘Super Tuesday’ States

State Youth Turnout in  2000 Youth Turnout in 2008 Youth Turnout Rate in 2000 Youth Turnout Rate in 2008
CA 574,807 852,459 13% 17%
CT 21,394 51,436 7% 12%
GA 92,019 281,724 7% 21%
MA 90,986 231,022 11% 25%
MO 71,430 190,863 7% 21%
OK 17,975 82,609 4% 14%
TN 35,127 139,831 4% 15%

Source: CIRCLE

Since April 2007, the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project has worked across the nation to mobilize young voters around the first presidential contests of this election cycle.  Through our What’s Your Plan?campaign, hundreds of student volunteers have appeared at fundraisers, photo-ops and town hall meetings to ask the candidates to engage young people in the issues we care about – like global warming, college affordability, financial security and healthcare.   Since the launch of the campaign, we have talked to all the major candidates, face to face, more than 100 times.

In the months leading up to the first presidential contests, student leaders trained by the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project have also worked feverishly on college campuses to mobilize youth turnout.  From texting their peers to organizing campus ‘get out the vote’ carnivals; from organizing Facebook groups to holding information forms on campuses, youth organizers mobilized thousands of young voters to the polls in key primary states.  

On the eve of the election, the Student PIRGs, along with Credo Mobile and the One Campaign also sent 20,000 young voters in ‘Super Tuesday’ states a text message reminder to vote the next day.  A September study released by the Student PIRGs and Credo Mobile found that such reminders can increase youth turnout significantly.

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The Student PIRGs are independent state-based student organizations that work to solve public interest problems related to the environment, consumer protection, and government reform.

The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project is the nation’s largest youth voter mobilization program.  Since 2004, we have registered more than 600,000 young people and made more than 650,000 peer to peer voter turnout contacts to get young people to the polls on Election Day. Due in large part to our efforts, the youth vote increased by 4.3 million votes, or 9% in 2004 and an analysis of our work in 2006 found that in the student dense precincts in which we worked with our allies, youth voter turnout increased on average by 157%.