Young Voters Not Essential to Obama Win

Tom Curry, MSNBC, November 7, 2008

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AnaMaria Arumi, who directs the exit poll desk for NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, has done the calculations based on the exit poll data and here is what she found: On a state-by-state level, when she re-ran the numbers as if there were no voters under 30, the only states that would switch to Republican presidential candidate John McCain are Indiana and North Carolina.

Without younger voters, Obama would still have won the 270 electoral votes he needs to become the next president.

What if there were no Latino voters?

In a counter-factual world in which there were no Latino voters, both New Mexico and Indiana would have switched into the McCain column. But Obama would have still won the electoral vote.

However, Arumi said, in the make-believe world where no African-Americans voted, while Obama still would have won most of the states that he won, McCain would have been able to take the hotly contested states of Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The 107 electoral votes from those states would have been enough to shift the map in McCain’s favor.

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Young voters in Virginia vs. Oklahoma

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But for a contrast, take a state where McCain did very well, such as Oklahoma. In the Sooner State, just as in Virginia, about one-fifth of the voters were under age 30. And McCain won 60 percent of them. Not surprisingly McCain carried Oklahoma by a big margin, 32 percentage points.

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And younger voters in a heavily Democratic state such as California were not decisive in the outcome, just as their older aunts and uncles in California were not either.

That is because Democratic presidential candidates win California by such huge margins that the outcome there was never in doubt. Strategists knew at the outset that they could move California’s 55 electoral votes to the Democratic column.

What do we really know about the votes?

It’s important to note that the discussion about the relative importance of one demographic group or another is based on exit poll interviews with voters.

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Of course, we still can look at a predominantly Latino or black congressional districts or counties. Census data can help us assess how black or Latino voters cast their ballots.

In Allendale County, South Carolina, for instance, Obama won 75 percent of the vote, making that his best county in a state he lost. That’s an actual vote count, not exit poll data.

According to the Census, 71 percent of Allendale County’s population is black. We can infer that most African-American voters in the county voted for Obama, but we still don’t know for certain how white and blacks voted in the county.

Nationally, the exit poll interviews indicated that:

# 61 percent of Obama’s votes came from white voters; 90 percent of McCain’s came from white voters.

# 23 percent of Obama’s votes came from black voters; only one percent of McCain’s came from African American voters.

# Latino voters accounted for 11 percent of Obama’s vote and six percent of McCain’s.

# Twenty-three percent of the Obama voters were under age 30 but only 13 percent of McCain backers were.

Surge of young voters?

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The purported “surge” of younger voters did happen, but it occurred at the same time as the number of voters of other ages also increased.

“Basically, the age distribution of voters looks the same as it did in 2004,” Arumi said.

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But what did shift is the vote preference of each group. Obama outperformed 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry with all age groups except seniors. His biggest gains were among those 25-29 years old.

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