Approximately three-and-a-half million more young Americans—aged 18-to-29—turned out to vote in the 2008 presidential election than did in 2004. In fact, the youth vote in 2008 was higher than that of voters 65-year-of-age and older.
With 9-million more votes cast than in the previous presidential contest, Barack Obama captured two out of every three youth votes on his way to a decisive victory over John McCain.
You might say that demography was destiny for Obama. But it wouldn’t be wholly correct to say that young voters on their own propelled Obama to victory. In fact, experts argue that he would still have won without the historic youth turnout.
In addition to the enthusiastic youth vote, participation by Black and Hispanic voters increased as well. This was particularly true for black eligible voters. Obama secured 95% support from Black voters who turned out in record numbers—2-million more than in 2004.
He earned 67% of a Hispanic vote that was also up by over 2-million voters. And while he importantly won among women with 56% of their vote, he also narrowly edged McCain 49% to 48% amongst men. In no election since have the Democrats won the male vote.
Obama’s ability to bring new voters to the polls was key to his victory in what was the largest and most diverse election turnout in US history at the time.
Despite a lower voter turnout in 2012, Obama was largely able to hold his voter coalition together to defeat Mitt Romney.
Unable to generate the energy prescient to the Obama victories, Clinton saw the Obama coalition crack. Black, Hispanic, and young voters failed to show up in sufficient numbers to support the Democrat—despite an increase of 7-million ballots cast over 2012.
Despite winning almost 3-million more votes than Donald Trump, Clinton underperformed in key demographics. She captured 88% of the Black vote, 65% among Hispanics, and only 55% of young voters.
Amid a global pandemic in 2020, 23-million more Americans turned out (or mailed in) to vote than in 2016, propelling Joe Biden to victory over the incumbent, Trump.
Both the largest voter turnout in American history in pure numbers, and in recent history by percent of eligible voters, Biden was able to capitalize on the increased turnout across key demographics to successfully flip key battleground states won by Trump four years earlier.
But, as 2024 approaches, it seems that Biden’s Democratic voter coalition is again showing cracks.
A recent CNN poll shows Biden now trailing Trump among voters under 35. Among Black voters, Biden’s support stands at 73%, far below both Obama and Clinton levels. Latino voters, too, seem to be moving away from Biden who holds only 50% support in this key demographic.
Sure, polls don’t vote. But the news is raising serious concern among Democratic strategists about their ability to turn out their voter coalition next November. If they don’t, they won’t win.
Yes, there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge before all votes are counted on November 5th, 2024. But clearly Biden is significantly weaker now among those groups that were critical to his election in 2020. And, with a disapproval rating of just over 60%, perhaps Americans are signalling their desire for a new White House playlist.