Preliminary Tallies: Without Youth Vote, Obama Would Have Lost Election

Experts say Romney could have won the election with the youth vote going his way.

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Obama speaks at his election night party after winning the presidential election in Chicago.

Young people between the ages of 18 and 29 made up a bigger share of the electorate on Tuesday than they did in past elections, according to preliminary tallies, with the percentage young voters standing at 19 percent. And President Obama overwhelmingly won that group compared to Mitt Romney.

Though returns are still coming in, several groups that study the youth vote say they are confident Romney's lack of appeal to youth lost him the presidency. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which has studied youth voting habits since 2002, younger voters were especially key for Obama in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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"If you wipe out the youth vote [in those states], or if you allocate the vote for [Obama and Romney] 50-50, those states switch from blue to red," Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. "It's enough to make Romney the next president."

Experts also claim that several other demographic groups, including minorities and women, were key to an Obama victory.

But young people make up a significant part of the overall vote in Ohio and Florida, which have two of the country's largest college campuses at Ohio State University and the University of Central Florida.

Looking at all 50 states, Obama won the youth vote 60 percent compared to 37 percent for Romney, according to exit polls.

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Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, which calls itself the nation's largest young voter organization, named a number of reasons Wednesday why Obama won over young people.

Back in 2008, she said, Democrats did a good job of reaching out to young people state-by-state throughout the 18-month-long primary.

"There were massive registration efforts. [Young people were] targeted and they were spoken to," Smith said on the call. This time, she said, young people were "not a target" of the Republican primary campaign.

And this election, young people turned out in larger numbers overall than experts on the youth vote anticipated, with about 50 percent of young people turning out in 2012, roughly the same turnout as 2008.

Rock the Vote attributes this to a sentiment it observed among young people that "their voices were being trumped by moneyed interests in DC," according to Smith, and that young people believe Obama is the best candidate to address that and other concerns.

Republicans, it must be noted, have historically lost the youth vote. But experts say that while Romney and running mate Paul Ryan occasionally reached out to struggling college graduates in the campaign, the Obama camp did a better job of addressing their concerns.

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"More than 22 million cast a ballot in our estimate," Smith said of the youth vote on Election Day. "This voting bloc can no longer be an afterthought to any political campaign."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at