President Obama is trying to excite the young people who helped elect him four years ago by visiting two colleges in swing states and taping an interview with Jimmy Fallon, while Mitt Romney is trying to chip away at the president's youth advantage by highlighting unemployment among young people and making nice with youth-favorite Ron Paul. This battle is mostly pointless. In 2008, Obama won young people by 34 points, and "young voters also turned out in near-record numbers — with a passion that will be hard to replicate this year," NPR's Scott Horsley reports. Wait, with all this hype about young people, 2008 was only a "near record" in turnout among young people? Yes. The huge historic youth turnout of four years ago was actually neither huge nor historic.
Charlie Cook tells NPR, "It was such a historic thing, it really galvanized young voters. And I don't sense that electricity is there." Except it wasn't a historic thing. According to research from Tufts University's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 48.5 percent of citizens 18 to 24 voted in 2008. In 2004, that number was 46.7 percent. In 1992, it was 48.6 percent. In 1972, it was 52.1 percent. (Among people over 30, more than 67 percent voted in each of those years.) Here's some explanation for the not-so-historic turnout: According to Rutgers' Center for American Women and Politics, in 2008, only 19.8 percent of female college freshmen thought it was essential or very important that they "influence the political structure," while 25.6 percent of male freshmen thought that. Maybe it's more accurate to say the youth vote is just recovering from the lows of 1996 and 2000, when about 36 percent of young people voted. (Perhaps Gen Xers were turned off by politics when the president had an affair with an intern of their own generation?)
Despite relatively few votes being at stake, Politico's James Hohmann reports Tuesday, "The Romney campaign is happily engaging the Obama campaign in a fight for the youth vote..." Romney broke with Republicans Monday to endorse legislation to keep the interest rates on Stafford student loans low for college kids. The nonaggression pact between Romney and Ron Paul is another way for Romney to get the kids's vote, Time's Alex Altman says, because "Paul’s support would go a long way toward helping Romney with a bloc of young Republicans who have been turning out in huge numbers for Paul and who otherwise might stay home in November." But, again, young folks have not been all that reliable, even for Paul. While young Paul supporters have been turning out for Paul's rallies, they haven't always been turning out on election day -- something even Paul's aides have publicly puzzled over. On Super Tuesday, Paul tied Rick Santorum among young people -- they both got 88,000 votes from youngsters. Romney was a close third with 86,000 young votes. On that March 6 election, only 5 percent of voters under 30 showed up to vote, U.S. News reports.
Aside from the fact that hardly any young people show up, they're so heavily Democratic it seems pointless for Romney to try to fight for them. It makes you wonder if the candidates are targeting the youth vote only to get more media attention, because it's so much more pleasing to the eye to illustrate political stories with photos of young people instead of the old folks who actually show up on election day.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.