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Massive Age Gaps in Voting for 2012 Elections
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation
For years, young voters have been discounted and labeled as apathetic no shows when it comes to voting. After 2012, the age gap will be ignored at a politician's peril. In 2012, according to exit polls, nationwide voters 18-29 years old comprised 19% of the electorate while voters over 65 years comprised 16% of the electorate. Most importantly, the voting patterns of the young and the old were mirror images of each other on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as well as on key Senatorial candidates and ballot measures.
In the presidential race, 60% of voters 18-29 years old voted for President Obama while only 44% of those over 65 did, creating a 16% age gap. In key Senate races the pattern persisted. For example, in Indiana, 18-29 years olds were 20% of the electorate compared to 14% for the over 65 group; the young voters supported the Democrat, Joe Donnelly, over Republican Richard Mourdock (infamous for his comment that "god intended" pregnancy from rape) by 53% and the older voters by 43, creating a 10% age gap. The age gap was even larger in Missouri for incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (D) against challenger Todd Akin (R) of "legitimate rape" fame. McCaskill had the support of 69% of the young voters and only 41% of the voters over 65 years for a whopping 28% age gap. In Ohio, the voters ages 18-24 were 17% of the electorate and voters over 65 were 18%. The young voters supported incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown (D) by 64% while only 46% of the older voters supported Brown, an 18% gap. An almost identical pattern existed in Pennsylvania's Senate race, where incumbent Senator Bob Casey (D) defeated challenger Tom Smith (R).
The age gap on marriage equality ballot measures in four states is more like an Age Canyon. Massive age gaps emerged in exits polls in all four states with two-thirds of voters 18-29 voting in favor of marriage equality and only one-third of voters over 65 doing so. The breakdown of the age gap in each state was:
- Maine: 68% of voters 18-29 years of age voted for same-sex marriage and only 44% of the over 65 were, for a 24% age gap.
- Washington: 65% of voters 18-29 years of age voted for same-sex marriage and only 39% over 65 voters did for a 26% age gap.
- Maryland: 70% of voters 18-29 years of age voted for same-sex marriage and only 36% of over 65 voters did, for a 34% gender gap.
- Minnesota: 67% of voters 18-29 years of age and only 36% of the over 65 group voted no on the state constitutional amendment to only recognize marriages between one man and one woman, making a 31% age gap.
The age gaps were massive and indicate a tremendous cultural change being driven by younger voters. In each of the four states, voters under 40 were overwhelmingly in favor of the equal marriage position while those over 40 were not. There were also significant gender gaps in all four states with women voting in favor of marriage equality and men rejecting it.