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Young voters, Hispanics help Obama to victory
By Bill Lambrecht and Bob Albrecht
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
WASHINGTON — Among the record number of Americans who took part in the presidential election, young voters and Hispanics provided big increases that propelled Barack Obama to victory and could present electoral obstacles for GOP candidates in the future.
Exit polls showed Obama outpolling John McCain more than 2-1 among voters aged 18-29, giving the Illinois senator a substantial advantage across the country and amounting to his entire margin of victory in Indiana and perhaps other states.
"Any state where the popular vote tally was close is probably a state where the youth vote made a difference," said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, based at Tufts University.
Likewise, Obama drew more than two-thirds of Hispanic voters, dramatically increasing John Kerry’s Latino support four years ago and paving the way for Obama to turn New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada from red to blue.
By the time the final numbers are counted, more than 130 million people will have voted in the 2008 presidential election, a record number that includes a jump of 8-13 million over 2004, said Thomas Patterson, professor of government and the press at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center.
On a percentage basis though, turnout was lower than the modern record in 1960 when 63.5 percent of the electorate voted.
Obama built his winning coalition by outpolling McCain among unmarried women, young white voters and minorities, exit polls showed.
Obama also benefited from a robust increase in Democratic voters. In 2004, the electorate was roughly an even mix of Democrats and Republicans. But this year, the electorate skewed blue by 7 percent, according to an exit poll analysis by the Pew Research Center.
Many of those Democrats this time were first-time young voters, which may pose a long-term problem for Republicans, said Morley Winograd, co-author of the book "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics."
"What happens when generations have their first formative political experience is that that the experience lives with them for the rest of their lives," he said.
Several analysts pointed to Obama’s significant 13 percent increase among Hispanic voters 2004 as special reason for GOP worry.
In Colorado, the share of the electorate that was Hispanic more than doubled, which the Latino vote increased by 60 percent in Nevada and by nearly 30 percent in New Mexico. Obama won all three of those states Tuesday.
Since 2004, Republicans have struggled with competing immigration policies. A hard-edged GOP platform this year decried "amnesty" for illegal immigrants and labeled immigration policy a national security issue.
"Democrats have an opportunity to hold on and build a majority in those southwestern states," said Andres Ramirez, vice president for Hispanic programs at NDN, a think tank in Washington that aligns with Democrats.
(c) 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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