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?)