CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
Stay Connected:
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Youth and the 2008 Republican Primaries

As the Republican presidential primaries are soon upon us, we thought it would be interesting to look at how youth participated in the 2008 Republican primaries. In 2008, CIRCLE calculated estimates of youth voter turnout in many state primaries and caucuses. Our estimate suggests that the primary/caucus turnout of young voters rose from 9% in 2000 to 17% in 2008 [1] (Democratic and Republican combined, when both occurred). On the state level, estimates of youth voter turnout in primaries ranged from 4% in New Mexico to 25% in Massachusetts. A summary of our estimates can be found here.

There was a clear difference in the way Republican youth and Democratic youth participated in the 2008 primaries.  First, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was the clear choice among young Democrats, winning the support of 60 percent of young voters and a majority in 32 of the 40 states. The Republican preferences were not as clear-cut with GOP presidential nominee John McCain winning the support of 34 percent of young Republicans, while Gov. Mike Huckabee garnered 31 percent and Gov. Mitt Romney 25 percent.

Second, based on information from Super Tuesday results,[2] young people were more likely to participate in the Democratic primaries than the Republican primaries. For example, out of more than three million youth participants on Super Tuesday, approximately 940,000 voted in Republican primaries that day, somewhat less than half as many as the Democratic youth. Calculating turnout by party is not possible without access to a reliable count of youth identifying with each party by state and nationally. Thus, the 2:1 ratio of Democratic to Republican young voters in the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries could suggest that Republican candidates did not reach out to young people, that Republican youth were not motivated to vote in a primary, or that fewer young people identified as Republicans.

CIRCLE will be watching how Republican candidates turn out youth, especially considering the dynamics of the Tea Party’s influence, high youth unemployment, and a continuing recession. We will be estimating youth participation in the 2012 Republican state primaries and caucuses. Additionally, CIRCLE has a state-by-state map on our homepage with information about the political party preferences of young voters in the presidential elections from 1996-2008.


[1] This turnout rate was calculated for states that had both a Republican and Democratic exit poll in 2000 and 2008 with the exception of Rhode Island where there was only a Democratic exit poll in 2000 and 2008. The states used to calculate the youth turnout rates for 2000 and 2008 were NH, MA,GA, MO, TX, TN, IA, MS, OH, OK, RI, FL, CA, CT, LA, MD, and NY.

[2] States that participated in the Super Tuesday Primaries included AL, AR, AZ, CA, CT, GA, IL, MA, MO, NJ, NY, OK, TN, and UT

Leave a Reply