With the 2012 election season officially underway, CIRCLE is looking at young voters in key states including the battleground states of Nevada and North Carolina, as well Iowa, which holds its caucus this evening. This article will cover CIRCLE’s analysis of North Carolina, Nevada and Iowa. Visit www.civicyouth.org for CIRCLE’s state-by-state data.

CIRCLE analysis of young voters in battleground states show steep decline in ’08 Democratic advantage
CIRCLE’s new comparative analysis of current voter registration data in the key electoral states of Nevada and North Carolina shows a drastic drop from  2008 levels, when a record-high proportion of young Americans turned out overwhelmingly to cast their votes to elect Barack Obama as President.

The analysis by CIRCLE’s team of researchers not only illustrates the Democratic Party’s loss of a significant advantage in youth voter registration over their Republican counterpart, but additionally reveals trends that may signal a widespread decline in youth registration overall – both problematic developments for President Obama’s 2012 re-election effort. Although most states do not retain information about the age and party ID of their electorate over time, both North Carolina and Nevada recently released this comparative data, examined extensively in the report released today by CIRCLE.  Additional data and analysis is available on CIRCLE’s website.

“The state-specific data for young voters from both of these battleground states shows what can only be described as a profound loss of the registration advantage Democrats held during the 2008 election cycle,” said Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE.  “That decline is a warning sign for Barack Obama, since more than two-thirds of young voters supported the Obama/Biden ticket in 2008.”

North Carolina
Between November 2008 and November 2011, North Carolina saw a net gain of 93,709 in the number of overall, new registrations.  However, youth registrants (ages 18-25) lost a net of 48,500 new registrations, while older adults (ages 26 and over) gained over 142,000 registrants. Of the 48,500 net loss in youth registrants, 80.4% were lost among registered Democrats, a net loss of 39,049 young Democratic registrants.

North Carolina Youth Registration Trend

Nevada’s registration rolls have shrunk by a net of 117,109 people since the 2008 election, of whom 50,912 (or 43% of the decline) are between the ages of 18-24.  The significant challenge for Democratic candidates in Nevada in 2012, including the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, is not the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among Nevada youth, since Democratic young people still outnumber Republican young people on the registration rolls by 45,222 to 25,182. However, the potentially, negative electoral impact for the re-election campaign of President Obama is due to the decline in the youth share of all registrants — youth were 11% of Nevada’s registered voters in  2008 election but just 7.85% in October 2011.  Given the overwhelming support young voters showed President Obama’s 2008 campaign, with nearly two-thirds of young voters casting their ballot for Obama, this drop in the share of the electorate comprised of young voters could prove a major difficulty to the 2012 re-election campaign for President Obama in Nevada.


Nevada Youth Registration Trend


Levine noted that, “retaining an advantage in registration requires intensive effort, because people of any age may change their party identification between elections, and youth are particularly likely to move to new jurisdictions, requiring them to register anew. Besides that, more than 4 million people reach age 18 every year, while an equivalent number ‘age out’ of the youth cohort.”

Tonight, January 3, 2012, Iowans will hold their caucus – the first of this election season. To get a sense of the young voters in this state, CIRCLE looked at Iowan youth who self-identified as Republicans in exit polls and examined how they compared to their peers and to older republicans in the last few elections.

2008 general election in Iowa
In 2008, Republicans made up 31% of young voters in Iowa. The exit polls from that year show that young Republicans were more likely than non-Republican youth to identify as politically conservative and to approve of President Bush and the Iraq war. On other issues such as the importance of the economy and support for ethanol subsidies, Republican youth look similar to their non-Republican peers.

Source: CIRCLE analysis of National Election Pool, National Exit Polls 2008 obtained from Roper Center for Public Opinion Archives

2010 Midterms in Iowa
In the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans composed 37% of the 18-29 year old vote. Young Republican voters were much less likely than non-Republican youth to approve of President Obama and much more likely (54%) to approve of the Tea Party. Republican youth were also more likely to identify as politically conservative and say that the government is doing too much. However, the economy remained as important an issue for Republican youth voters as it was non-Republican youth voters.

Source: CIRCLE analysis of National Election Pool, National Exit Polls 2010 obtained from Roper Center for Public Opinion Archives

Compared to Iowan Republican voters over 30 in 2010, young Republicans were slightly less supportive of the Tea Party and less likely to say that government is doing too many things. However, both young and older Republican voters reported very low approval for President Obama and Republicans from both age groups strongly identified with conservative ideology. The economy was the most important issue for a similar percentage of Republican voters in both age categories.

Source: CIRCLE analysis of National Election Pool, National Exit Polls 2010 obtained from Roper Center for Public Opinion Archives

2012 Iowa Caucus
If past historical trends continue to hold, it is likely that the Iowan Republican youth vote in 2012 will be more similar to their older Republican counterparts than to non-Republican youth. Although it will be interesting to see how young Republican voters compare to older Republican voters in their support of Tea-Party style candidates in the Iowa caucuses.

CIRCLE will be watching the Republican youth carefully to see how the current political and economic climate will affect how Iowan Republican youth vote, and how candidates reach out to youth in their party.

In 2008, voters under 30 made up 11% of the total Republican vote in the Iowa caucuses. Tomorrow, you can check the CIRCLE home page for the youth voter turnout for young Iowans tonight.

For more information about the Iowa youth vote in past presidential primaries and general elections, see the Iowa page in CIRCLE’s “Young People and the 2012 Primaries” map.


 Tisch College’s CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement)is the leading source of authoritative research on civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25.

Originally published January 2012