Young and voting

One important take away from this election may be that if you want to significantly increase youth turnout, put marijuana legalization on the ballot. Both nationally and in the important swing states, the percentage of the vote that came from adults under 30 was basically unchanged since the 2008 election. According to the exit polling data from CNN, the youth vote was 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 and 19 percent of the electorate in this past election.

By comparison, in the three states with marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State, there was a significant surge in the voters age 18-29. In 2008 young people made up just 14 percent of the vote in Colorado but this year it was 20 percent. Even more incredibly, in Washington State the youth vote went from just 10 percent of the electorate last election to 22 percent this time.

2008 Youth Vote 2012 Youth Vote Increase
National 18% 19% 1%
Ohio 17% 17% 0%
Virginia 21% 19% -2%
Nevada 17% 18% 1%
Iowa 17% 15% -2%
Florida 15% 16% 1%
Wisconsin 22% 21% -1%
Marijuana States
Washington 10% 22% 12%
Colorado 14% 20% 6%
Oregon 12% 17% 5%

It is theoretically possible that some unrelated factors or bad data caused there to only be a huge increase in the youth vote in these three states but having marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot appears by far the most likely cause. Young voters overwhelming support marijuana legalization and it is something they strongly care about. This big increase in the youth vote helped Initiative 502 in Washington state and Amendment 64 in Colorado win by such large margins.

It seems that marijuana legalization is uniquely able to get a large number of young adults to turnout to vote in a way almost no other issue can. Marijuana legalization initiatives appeared to have significantly increased youth turnout in both safe presidential states, like Washington, and also in traditional swing states, like Colorado.

The lesson for politicians and political strategists appears to be that if you want to significantly increase youth turnout, make the election about legalizing marijuana.

Image by maireads under Creative Commons License.