Young Voters in the 2008 Election

In the last three general elections—2004, 2006, and 2008—young voters have given the Democratic Party a majority of their votes, and for all three cycles they have been the party's most supportive age group. This year, 66% of those under age 30 voted for Barack Obama making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972.

This pattern of votes, along with other evidence about the political leanings of young voters, suggests that a significant generational shift in political allegiance is occurring. This pattern has been building for several years, and is underscored among voters this year. Among voters ages 18-29, a 19-point gap now separates Democratic party affiliation (45%) and Republican affiliation (26%). In 2000, party affiliation was split nearly evenly among the young.

Young voters are more diverse racially and ethnically than older voters and more secular in their religious orientation. These characteristics, as well as the climate in which they have come of age politically, incline them not only toward Democratic Party affiliation but also toward greater support of activist government, greater opposition to the war in Iraq, less social conservatism, and a greater willingness to describe themselves as liberal politically.

Young people were not, however, crucial to Barack Obama's victory, according to the exit polls. Obama would have lost Indiana and North Carolina, but carried other key states such as Ohio and Florida, as well as the national vote. But young people provided not only their votes but also many enthusiastic campaign volunteers. Some may have helped persuade parents and older relatives to consider Obama's candidacy. And far more young people than older voters reported attending a campaign event while nearly one-in-ten donated money to a presidential candidate.

Read the full report Young Voters in the 2008 Election on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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