I was inspired to write this post after looking at some exit poll data. Pew research made this chart comparing the shift among young voters from the 2008 presidential election to the 2012 presidential election.
Overall, Obama fell from 66% of the young vote in 2008 to 60% in 2012, a 6% decline. Part of this is cyclical: Obama fell from 53% in 2008 among all voters to 51% in 2012. Still, there was a disproportionate fall among young voters. There are two more factors that probably play a role here:
1.) Young voters are probably more "elastic". That means that the youth vote is more subject to shift when national conditions change. So, if there is a national swing of 2%, one may expect a larger swing among young voters and a smaller swing among older voters because they are more "set in their ways".
2.) Obama won a disproportionately large number of young voters in 2008 because of unpopular Republican incumbents and his own personal charisma. The incumbent Republicans may have been especially off putting to younger voters while Obama's qualities resonated more with them and older voters.
One could also add Obama's turnout operation, but I'm not sure it was really that much stronger in 2008 than in 2012. In 2008, voters of the ages 18-29 made up 18% of all voters. In 2012, this group's share of the vote plummeted to... 19%. Turnout was lower overall, but, proportionally, the youth vote was not any worse than in 2008. The entire electorate, on the other hand, was.
Yet another factor that could play a role in the large shift in the youth vote would be the cohort that was 25 to 29 in 2008 was unusually liberal in 2008 but was no longer "youth" in 2012 since they entered their thirties. Part of this story fits. People in their 30s was the only age group that Obama in 2012 outperformed Obama in 2008. The reason for this isn't that Obama did a great job appealing to people in their 30s. Instead, the people in their late 20s in 2008 who Obama did appeal to simply turned 30 and didn't change their mind.
This explains the strong relative performance of Barack Obama among people in their 30s in 2012. But, that does not necessarily explain the change in the youth vote. If this was a major factor in Republican gains among the young, we would expect Republicans to do much better among the 18-24 group within the youth relative to the 25-29 group in 2012 relative to 2008. In fact, in both elections, both groups voted about the same. Obama won 66% of both groups in 2008 and 60% of both groups in 2012.
So, it doesn't seem that that explanation plays a large role in the vote shift. Perhaps more important is how different groups within the 18-29 cohort shifted. A topic I'll address next time.