Millennial Turnout will Determine Outcome of 2012 Election

The New York Times reports that many in the vanguard of the phenomenon of the 2008 election are too worried about their economic prospects to expend the same energy on behalf of President Obama’s 2012 election campaign. Although the article also points out that there is an enormous outpouring of fresh blood now working on the Obama campaign from Millennials too young to have been eligible to vote in 2008, the report nevertheless highlights a critical issue for the Obama campaign’s plan to win re-election. 

President Obama will be re-elected if he can engage and turn out America’s youngest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), who still support him by overwhelming margins. In fact, the most recent Pew research shows a 20 point margin in Obama’s favor between the voting preferences of Americans, 18-29, and those over age 65, the widest generational gap their research has ever measured. 

It is certainly true that, despite the president’s personal popularity, economic concerns are weighing down his reelection chances.  Moreover, there is scant likelihood that economic circumstances in 2012 will be dramatically different than they are now.  So contrary to conventional wisdom, the economy, stupid, is not likely to hurt the president’s chances more than it has to date.  Its effect is already built into the poll’s numbers, which show Obama beating his most likely—and strongest—potential opponent, Mitt Romney, by six percentage points in the most recent Battleground survey

Nor are the often cited independents likely to be the group of voters whose opinion ultimately decides the election.  Surveys show that true independents, those who do not lean to either party in their partisan identification, make up at most 10% of all eligible voters. And this group tends to be the least informed portion of the electorate and therefore the least likely to vote.

Instead, the candidate and party that do the best job of turning out their base vote will be victorious a year from now. Right now, “the GOP benefits from a continuing intensity gap, with 79 percent of Republicans saying they are extremely likely to vote next November, compared with 65 percent of Democrats.”  And much of that gap comes from the current lack of attention and enthusiasm among Millennials as the recent Pew research documents.

In 2008, young Millennials provided more than 80% of Obama’s winning margin. In 2012 there will be 16 million more of them eligible to vote, making them almost one-quarter of the eligible electorate. With all polls showing Millennials prefer Obama over any of his potential rivals, including Mitt Romney, by the same 2:1 margin that they voted for him in 2008, there is only one clear, winning strategy for the President’s re-elect campaign to pursue.

Just as they have been doing with their recent focus on jobs and student loan burdens, the Obama campaign will need to engage Millennials with the same focus and superior outreach that they did in 2008. If it is successful in getting America’s newest generation to the polls in November, 2012 President Obama will win re-election and continue to usher in a new, Millennial era, in American politics.