Young voters are significantly less engaged in this year’s election than at a comparable point in 2008 and now lag far behind older voters in interest in the campaign and intention to vote. The share of voters younger than 30 who are following campaign news very closely is roughly half what it was at this point four years ago (18%, down from 35%). Just 63% of young registered voters say they definitely plan to vote this year, down from 72% four years ago.
Not only are young registered voters less engaged, but fewer young people are registered to vote. In all Pew Research Center polling conducted over the course of 2012, only half (50%) of adults under 30 say they are absolutely certain that they are registered. This compares with 61% in 2008 and 57% in 2004. Registration rates typically rise over the course of election years, but for youth voter registration to reach 2008 levels the figures will have to shift decidedly over the coming month.
Both of these trends are disadvantages for Barack Obama, who continues to hold a wide lead among young voters. In the latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted Sept. 12-16, registered voters under 30 favored Obama over Romney by 59% to 33%, and that margin has held relatively steady over the course of the year.
But so far, any potential damage to Obama has been mitigated by three factors. First, the decline in youth engagement is not limited to Obama supporters. In fact, the dropoff is at least as steep among young voters who intend to vote Republican. Second, other segments of Obama’s electoral base – notably African Americans – remain highly engaged in the election. Third, declining engagement in a key Republican subgroup – moderate Republicans – at least partially offsets falling interest among the young.