Young voters lean heavily toward Obama

By Martha Irvine

CHICAGO – Rafi Zelikowsky skipped class on Tuesday to camp out in downtown Chicago and wait for Barack Obama, the man who captured the hearts of so many young voters.

“We’re feeding off the energy,” said Zelikowsky, a 19-year-old Northwestern University student from Los Angeles who arrived at 7:30 a.m. to wait in a long line outside the park where Obama planned to address his supporters into the evening. Zelikowsky, who voted for Obama by absentee ballot in California, also spent the previous weekend canvassing for the Illinois senator in rural Iowa.

That kind of loyalty – and the Obama campaign’s early efforts to harness young voters – appeared to be paying off at the ballot box.

Early exit polls showed that young voters were supporting him by a more than 2-1 margin, with his greatest support coming from black and Hispanic young people. The preliminary results are similar to those from polls conducted before the election.

Overall, more than two-thirds of voters younger than 30 supported Obama. And the overwhelming majority of black voters and about three-quarters of Hispanic voters in that age bracket said they voted for Obama.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Meanwhile, more than half of white youth cast a vote for the senator from Illinois, while well over a third supported John McCain, the senator from Arizona.

Many young black voters saw this election as their chance to help make history.

“I’ve been wanting to vote. I’m finally part of it,” said Chamar Morrison, a 19-year-old sophomore at North Carolina Central University who is black and who voted for Obama. She listed the cost of a college education and the war in Iraq as two of her top issues.

The early exit polls showed support for Obama steadily decreasing as the age of the voters who were questioned increased. For instance, a little over half of voters older than 65 supported McCain.

The results are based on an early random sample of more than 16,000 voters in Election Day exit polls and telephone interviews over the past week for early voters. The exit poll was conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director at the Pew Hispanic Center, said the early exit poll results fit his expectations. He also noted that in 2004 young, white voters went for President Bush over Democrat John Kerry, like the older age groups did.

So these results, so far, represent a shift in favor of the Democrats.

Lopez said strong support from young voters could be particularly relevant in states where the race was closer.

“It definitely could make an impact in the swing states because it’s such a lopsided margin for Barack Obama,” said Lopez, who was formerly the research director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which tracks young voters.

Their participation, which has ebbed and flowed over the years, has been on an upswing since the 2000 presidential election, though the impact of young voters was not as strongly felt because, while they leaned Democratic, they were more evenly split between the major candidates.

In 2004, about 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, up from 36 percent in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. No other age group increased its turnout by more than 5 percentage points in 2004.

Overall, voters younger than 30 make up about 17 percent of the electorate.

Exit polls numbers cannot, however, be used to compare participation among the age groups.