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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Young Vote Still Strong For Obama. Question Is Turnout

With President Obama’s visit to North Carolina and to UNC Chapel Hill last week, commentators have been observing that it’s the opening salvo in the Democrat’s attempt to re-energize the youth vote — a critical bloc that in 2008 helped to give Obama the win.

In a recent national Gallup Poll, Obama enjoys a commanding 64-29 lead among those 18-29 year old—but the danger is that fewer of them will vote than other generational cohorts.  Only six in 10 young voters across the nation indicate that they registered to vote, and only 56 percent say they will vote come November. 

This compares to well over 75  percent of other age groups saying they are registered, and that between 77 and 86  percent of registered voters in those other age groups saying they will definitely vote this fall.

With the continued emphasis that the Obama campaign is placing on North Carolina and attracting the youth vote, 2008 offers us a baseline to compare whether Tar Heel young voters are comparable to the national averages.

In 2008, the national exit poll findings show that 18-29 year olds went for Obama by a two-to-one margin.  Obama had a tighter win among 30-44 year olds, while he tied McCain in the 45-65 and lost those over 65 years old.

In comparison to the national results, the youth vote in North Carolina was even stronger for Obama, with a 47 point spread between he and McCain.  But that was the only age group that Obama was able to beat the Republican: with a range of 3 to 13 points, Obama lost those over the age of 30 in North Carolina.

2008 NC Exit Poll Results by Age (percents under age groups indicate percentage of the electorate)

Other findings from the 2008 battle in North Carolina show what we would typically think of when it comes to younger voters: ideologically, slightly more liberal than their older counterparts (but half identify as “moderate”), and, with the increased focus of the Obama grassroots mobilization effort, identifying more Democratic in their party affiliation. Only 18  percent of 18-29 year olds say they see themselves as Republicans.

2008 NC Exit Poll Results: Ideology by Age

2008 NC Exit Poll Results: Party Identification by Age

So how might things stack up four years later among the age groups? 

In comparison to the exit poll findings, the latest results from Public Policy Polling indicate some work that the Obama camp needs to do within the state.  By a 61-33 spread, Obama is certainly commanding a lead within the 18-29 year old voting bloc — but not at the levels he saw in 2008. 

April 4-7, 2012, Public Policy Polling Results by Age (percents under age groups indicate percentage of the sample)


But within the PPP findings, Obama could “give up” some youth vote if he was to hold the other age groups.  The president leads among both 30-44 and 45-65 year olds, two groups of voters who are more reliable in turnout than their younger counterparts, and who went for McCain in 2008 (especially 45-65 year olds). 

Granted, Obama didn’t need to come to North Carolina to deliver his remarks specifically to college students. In fact, if Obama retains all the other states he won in 2008, he could loose North Carolina and still be re-elected.  But Romney needs North Carolina, and it appears that Obama is going to make the Republican work for it — whether  young or old.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ