Presidential Polls 2012: 15 Percent Less Young People Will Vote in 2012


This morning the Harvard Public Opinion Project released our bi-annual poll of over 2,000 18-29 year olds from all across the United States. The poll provides a unique insight into millennial thinking about the 2012 election especially in comparison to our previous polling going back over a decade.

The Horse Race: President Obama is beating former Governor Romney among 18-29 year olds by a 48% to 26% margin with 22% reporting they are undecided. Of young people who believe the country is headed in the right direction, 90% are voting for the president. Of young people who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, 53% are voting for Romney. These numbers track with the voting rates of those who either approve or disapprove of Obama and show the difficulty Romney is having attracting voters who are not happy with the president or the direction of the country.

Voter Registration / Likelihood of Voting: The good news for Romney is that 81% of his young supporters are registered to vote compared with 69% of Obama’s supporters. Romney also leads in the likelihood for his supporters to vote with a 77% to 65% advantage over Obama. We have seen a similar gap in voter registration and the likelihood of voting between Republicans and Democrats in surveys going back to 2010. Our 2008 poll only surveyed 18-24 year-olds but found Republicans and Democrats statistically tied among both voter registration and likelihood of voting.

An Enthusiasm Gap? The good news for Obama is that contrary to the popular media narrative, his supporters report being more enthusiastic than Romney’s in three measurements of enthusiasm. Nineteen percent of Obama’s supporters report “very closely” following the election, compared with 13% of Romney’s supporters. Twenty-six percent of Obama’s supporters consider themselves “very excited” about the election compared to 18% of Romney’s supporters. Finally 39% of Obama’s supporters said they would be “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in volunteering compared with 30% of Romney’s supporters.

Hispanics: Our survey had some very interesting findings about the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election.  Young Hispanics support Obama over Romney 63% to 6%. In comparison to their African American and white counterparts of which about 75% are registered to vote, only 46% of young Hispanics report being registered to vote and only 42% consider themselves likely to vote.  We have seen an increase from the spring of 2012 when only 41% of Hispanics were registered. 

Other Interesting Findings: A couple of other numbers stood out from our poll. The first is that the number of young people who will “definitely” be voting has decreased from 63% in 2008 to 48% in 2012. In the fall of 2008 43% of young people considered themselves politically engaged and active compared with 18% in the fall of 2010, and 25% in the fall of 2012. However, large gaps still exist between young men (30%) and young women (19%) who consider themselves politically engaged and active.

Young voters in the 2012 election prefer Obama over Romney as we have seen in past surveys. However, this support is marked by decreased enthusiasm from 2008 that leave both campaigns in a position of attracting the energy and vote of young voters. There are many other interesting findings in the poll and I encourage you to check out the poll itself as well as more analysis from my peers of the Harvard Public Opinion Project.