Voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of all those who voted on Tuesday, according to the early National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research. That's an increase of one percentage point from 2008. Obama captured 60 percent youth vote, compared with Mitt Romney's 36 percent.
"The role young people would play during this election has been a major question in American politics for over a year, and it seems the answer is that they have been as big a force at the polls in 2012 as in 2008," said Peter Levine, director of the youth research organization CIRCLE at Tufts University. "They again supported President Obama, although not as lopsidedly as in 2008. Until tomorrow, it will be unclear whether youth turnout -- or the turnout of any group -- rose or fell, but young people were proportionately well represented in the 2012 electorate."
Obama's 60 percent to 36 percent victory among young people this year is smaller than his 66 percent-31 percent win over John McCain in 2008. But it is still the highest any Democratic presidential candidate scored in 30 years among 18- to 29 year-olds. John Kerry, for instance, only won the youth vote by 9 percentage points in 2004. Young people made up 17 percent of the electorate in 2004, when Kerry was defeated by President George W. Bush.
The initial exit polling data does not show whether there was an increase in the number of young voters. However, young people represent about 21 percent of the voting-eligible population, according to CIRCLE’s analysis of Census data, making 19 percent a fairly high turnout.
"Tonight's results hopefully put an end to the accusation of a so called 'enthusiasm gap,'" Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, said in a statement Tuesday night. "This proves that any campaign that ignores young voters does so at its own peril."