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9 November 2006

Young Voter Turnout Up
for the Second Major Election

The following is a press release dated Nov. 8 from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University. The article is reprinted here in its entirety.

Nov. 8 - Turnout among 18-29 year old voters increased by more than 2 million voters in the 2006 elections compared to 2002, according to an early exit poll analysis released today as part of the first comprehensive look at the youth vote in the midterm elections, presented by Young Voter Strategies.  At least 10 million votes were cast by this age group in 2006 compared to 8 million in 2002, and the vote counts are still coming in.  Youth-dense precincts that were targeted by Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns showed even larger increases.  Turnout more than doubled in the 36 precincts where groups like the nonpartisan Student PIRG’s New Voters Project actively turned out this age cohort.

Also released today, a new bipartisan poll by Ed Goeas and Celinda Lake shows that in 2006 young voters were motivated primarily by a strong desire for change, combined with high levels of contact from campaigns and nonpartisan organizations:  61% of those who were surveyed said they feel the country is on the “wrong track” and 52% report being contacted by a campaign.

“A new generation of voters has arrived as a force in politics,” said Heather Smith, Director of Young Voter Strategies. “For the second major election in a row, turnout among young voters increased—yesterday’s election showed that 2004 was the start of a trend of increasing young voter turnout.  Today’s young adults proved that they’re a critical voting bloc for both political parties to court—at 42 million strong, this generation will only grow in importance as more and more vote in each election.” 

An analysis of the National Election Pool’s exit poll for 18-29 year olds, conducted by the University of Maryland’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that turnout among 18-29 year olds yesterday increased at least 4 percentage points over 2002 figures to 24%.  This is a greater increase than was seen in the overall electorate; the share of votes cast by young people increased by at least 2 points.

“This is an extraordinary turnout for young voters,” said CIRCLE Director Peter Levine. “In a year of rising turnout, young people led the way—repeating the pattern that we saw in 2004. Youth were an especially high proportion of voters in Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri. Nationwide, in House races, 61% of young people voted for Democratic candidates—the highest proportion for any age group.”

Further, vote tallies from youth-dense precincts in eight states showed even greater young voter turnout increases in areas targeted by nonpartisan registration and mobilization efforts: 

The 2006 analysis focused on a set of 36 precincts in Ohio, Connecticut, Iowa, Colorado and Michigan. The precincts all contained a relatively high concentration of college students, and were located near universities where nonpartisan Get Out the Vote efforts were conducted by the Student PIRGs' New Voters Project and other partners. The analysis compared voter turnout numbers from the 2002 General Election with yesterday's turnout numbers. Average turnout in those precincts increased by 157% over 2002. This increase is six times the national average increase of ballots cast by young adults.

“On November 7th, we proved again that ‘if you ask them, they will vote,’” said David Rosenfeld of the Student PIRG’s New Voters Project. “In 2004, massive outreach helped propel youth turnout to historic levels; yesterday, the biggest project we’ve ever run in a midterm election cycle reached and engaged a new generation of voters who showed in no uncertain terms that they are a voting bloc that politicians must pay attention to.”  The Student PIRG’s registered over 75,000 students to vote and ran nonpartisan GOTV operations on 80 campuses in 2006.

The bipartisan polling team of Ed Goeas and Celinda Lake—who have followed this cohort throughout the 2006 elections—released the initial findings of the first post-election Young Voter Battleground Poll.  The poll which looked at motivations for youth going to the polls, surveyed 500 18-30 year olds and has a margin of error of +/-4.4.  Key findings include:

  • 58% talked a great deal/some with family and friends about the elections.
  • Young people listed education and college costs, the war in Iraq, and the economy as areas of concern they want Congress to address.
  • Young people said the most important issue to them when deciding who to vote for was the war in Iraq at 43%.
  • At the same time, 60% reported dissatisfaction with the President’s actions on those issues.
  • 61% of young adults surveyed said they believe that America is on the wrong track; 31% on the right track.
  • The youth identify with Democrats at 40%, Republicans at 30%, and Independent at 23%.  However, the Democrats win the majority of the Independent votes in a generic ballot question.   50% reported that they voted for Democrats and 35% reported that they voted for Republicans.  14% were undecided.
  • Of those surveyed, 46% were contacted by a political campaign or organization during the 2006 election cycle. The majority of the contacts remembered by young voters were by phone and mail.

"Democrats were victorious in 2006 in part because they have begun to reach out to young voters,” said Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. “We are excited to see this age cohort show up at the polls in increased numbers and vote overwhelmingly Democratic, their desire for change helped drive the Democratic victories yesterday.  This is now the second major election in a row that the Democrats won the youth vote.  Studies show that if a young person votes for a party in three elections in a row, they tend to vote with that party for life.”

“The 2006 elections show that Republican campaigns must mobilize their base of young voters to win,” said Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group. “Yesterday proved that young voters can and will be a force in elections—of the 28 seats in the House of Representatives that changed hands so far, 22 were won by less than 2% of the vote, 18 by 5,000 or less votes, and four by less than 1,000 votes.  The increase in youth turnout certainly came into play yesterday.  As the Republicans look ahead to 2008 in an environment where many of the incoming Democrats won with less than 55% of the vote, they should look seriously at continuing to engage and energize GOP voters under 30.  There are cost-effective methods to do so and our survey shows that young Republicans are very party-loyal and willing to be turned-out.”

Young voters made their voices heard at the polls on November 7, 2006.  At 42 million strong and growing, this generation has arrived as a force in politics and will only grow in importance as more and more vote in each election.  Just as the Republican Party invested resources in winning the Evangelical vote and the Democratic Party courted the African-American voting bloc, both political parties can and must implement a strategy to target and win young voters—both to win close elections today and to build political power for the future. 

To see the full Lake-Goeas poll results

To see more about the exit poll turnout analysis

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