Despite predictions of record low voter turnout by pundits and some pollsters leading up to the Virginia governor’s race between Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe, election day exit polling only showed small drops from voting levels in the 2009 gubernatorial election. But while most age groups experienced slips or flatlining, one came out to vote in higher numbers: young people. According to The Washington Post’s exit poll data, voters ages 18-29 made up 13 percent of total voters, a three percent gain from the 2009 race.
“President Obama won Virginia because of voters under the age of 30 – they were the only age group to vote for the President, and they favored him by 25 points,” said Heather Smith, president of the nationwide youth voter outreach organization Rock The Vote, in a press release. “These same voters made Terry McAuliffe the next Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Several factors may have affected the rise in youth voter turnout. Last week’s election was the first since Virginia launched its online voter registration site, a move which helped potential young voters register easily. Leading up to the election, Rock The Vote ran an online voter registration drive that registered 30,000 voters under 30.
“I’d tried to register to vote twice before, and I’d gotten a letter back saying that I didn’t sign my name, which I did,” said 22-year-old Sharon Din, a first-time voter. “This was the first time that they let you register online. I got registered real nice and easy. That was probably the thing I needed.”
Social media sharing also encouraged young people to go to the polls. MSNBC reported that on election day alone, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli were mentioned a combined amount of almost 300,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. NBC news reported that McAuliffe’s campaign used many of President Obama’s online campaign tactics such as social media and online behavioral targeting. Din got the news that informed her vote from friends on social networks and news outlets that published stories about the race on Facebook and Tumblr.
Like many other voters who voted based on who they didn’t want to see in office, many young people across party lines were motivated more by the candidates they opposed.
“Cuccinelli and Bob McDonnell legalized discrimination against sexuality as the first thing they did, it’s such a backwards thing,” said Din. “I didn’t care about McAuliffe. Cuccinelli’s anti-sodomy laws and such were horrible.”
“I’d say many voters and our members were motivated to campaign against McAulliffe,” said Lucy Lohrmann, president of the American University College Republicans, which sent volunteers to work on Cuccinelli’s campaign for two days. “A lot of our members value government transparency and honest politicians, so they found McAulliffe to be a politician worth campaigning against.”