Can Romney draw youth support?

Four percent of eligible Florida voters under the age of 30 participated in that state’s recent primary, according to preliminary analysis by Tisch College’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). These young people voted for former Gov. Mitt Romney ahead of Rep. Ron Paul by a margin of 16 percentage points – even though youth were Romney’s weakest age group and Paul drew almost four times as many young voters as he did in the 2008 primary.

The youth turnout, at 4%, was higher than it had been in 2004, the last time only one party held a contested Florida primary. Recent years in which both the Republicans and the Democrats held competitive races in Florida, 2000 and 2008, youth turned out at a rate of 4% and 13%, respectively.

Because of a lack of available data, the CIRCLE turnout estimates do not include young people who participated in Florida’s uncontested Democratic primary.

CIRCLE Director Peter Levine noted, “Ron Paul won the youth vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he came in second in Florida and third in South Carolina – states with much larger populations. Mitt Romney drew more young voters in Florida this year than in 2008, but the turnout still raises questions about his appeal to youth.”

Comparisons to past years must be made with caution, because turnout is affected by the date of the caucuses and by the nature of the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns, which are different in every cycle. For example, in 2008 both the Republicans and Democrats held primaries, but in 2012 only the Republicans held a competitive primary.  Table 3 provides estimates of youth participation in Florida primary by party and year.

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 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 February 2012