Electoral College Results: How the Youth Vote Cost Romney the Presidential Election


There is a popular sentiment that the GOP is the party of “old, white men” and this was heavily reflected in the 2012 presidential election. Not only did women and minorities vote heavily for Obama, but also the youth vote came out in not just similar numbers, but slightly higher numbers than in 2008. 

Predictions that the youth voter turnout of 2008 was a fluke or that the youth is largely apathetic fell flat on Tuesday. Youth voters, aged 18-29, turned out as 19% of the electoral vote – a 1% increase from the 2008 election – and these voters were overwhelmingly in favor of President Obama. 

Although youth voters were not as one-sided in 2012 as in 2008 (66% and 32% in 2008 vs. 60% and 37% in 2012) it still had a substantial impact on the election. According to a study by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the youth vote affected “at least 80” electoral votes. Had Romney been able to split the youth vote in key states like Ohio (62% Obama vs. 35% Romney) or Florida (66% Obama vs. 32% Romney), these blue states could have flipped to red.

In the words of Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote: “I think we’ve now established a fairly decent pattern that this generation is different from their older brothers and sisters, and we can put those rumors of apathy to bed … This voting bloc can no longer be an afterthought to any party or campaign.” Hopefully, these numbers will continue to rise and we can truly put “the apathy of the youth” behind us. To continue to increase the youth vote, the Fair Elections Legal Network recommends implementing flexible voting registration and improving voting practices as well as targeting young voters specifically for registration and education. These voters are often uninformed about where to vote, when they need to register by, etc. – factors that affect older, seasoned voters to a far lesser degree.