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

68% of Currently-Undecided Youth Voted for Obama in 2008, 28% for McCain; Romney Supporters Less Likely to be Unemployed, while 86% of Obama supporters “admiring” or “satisfied” with him

August 22nd, 2012
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Undecided Youth

In an early July poll analyzed by CIRCLE and commissioned by the Youth Engagement Fund, 30.3% youth were undecided in their vote and 6% stated that they would be voting for someone else other than President Obama or Governor Romney. Undecided youth were split with 41.0% being “satisfied” and 47.8% being “disappointed” with the President. 68.1% of undecideds youth voted for Obama in 2008 compared to the 27.7% who voted for McCain. It should be noted that these responses were made prior to the announcement of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate.

Candidate Support

38.4% of young Americans 18-29 years of age indicated they would “definitely” or “might” vote for President Obama if the election were held at that time.  This was a thirteen percentage point lead over those who indicated they would “definitely” or “might” vote for Governor Romney (25.4%).38.4% of young Americans 18-29 years of age indicated they would “definitely” or “might” vote for President Obama and “definitely” would not vote for Romney if the election were held at that time. This was a thirteen percentage point lead over those who indicated they would “definitely” or “might” vote for Governor Romney (25.4%) and “definitely” would not vote for Obama.

In terms of their feelings about President Obama, it is not surprising that 86.2% of Obama supporters were “admiring” or “satisfied” with him compared to 8.3% of Romney supporters feeling the same way about the President.

Supporter Demographics

Obama supporters are the most racially diverse with 46.3% White, 27.4% Black and 18.4% Hispanic.  Romney supporters are predominantly White (81.5%) with some Hispanic support (10.9%). Undecideds are somewhere in between with 63% White, 9% Black and 18% Hispanic. Those seeking an alternative candidate are closer to the Romney racial demographics with 77% White and 15% Hispanic. In terms of gender, Romney and Obama supporters are slightly more likely to be male while undecideds and alternative candidate supporters are slightly more female.

Romney supporters are the least likely to be unemployed (14%) while nearly a third of Obama supporters and those seeking an alternative candidate are without employment.  A quarter of undecided voters are unemployed.

Candidate Assessments

When asked about personal characteristics of the candidates (i.e. shares my values, is honest and trustworthy, will change American, has the right experience to be President), those who demonstrated strong support for a candidate (Obama or Romney) believed their candidate to have these qualities over their opponent. For example, when asked which, candidate would “stand up for their interests”, 96.1% of Obama supporters said Obama was most likely to do this, while 87.2% of Romney supporters felt Romney would.

Undecided voters were not so clear in their assessments of the two candidates.  In general, this group of swing voters were more likely to think Obama holds favorable characteristics outpacing Romney as much as much as forty-nine percentage points in the “understands the problems of people your age.”    However, for key characteristics such as getting things done, bringing change and improving the economy, undecideds were split between the two candidates.

Breakdown of Undecided Voters regarding key personal characteristics of candidates

Obama Romney
Has the right experience to be president 63.1% 24.6%
Understand the problems of people your age 68.1% 19.1%
Will bring change to America 44.8% 41.0%
Will stand up for your interests 49.1% 36.1%
Will get things done 42.3% 42.5%
Is a typical politician 34.3% 53.5%
Shares your values 49.5% 34.7%
Is honest and trustworthy 52.3% 30.5%
Stands up for what he believes 53.0% 31.3%
Will improve our economy 40.1% 43.9%

Voter Registration and Perceptions Voting Impact

Voter registration amongst respondents was relatively high with 71.3% of all respondents saying there were registered to vote either at their current address or another address. This was NOT a survey of “likely” or registered voters. 80.8% of Romney supporters were registered to vote followed by 77.2% of Obama supporters and 64.6% of alternative candidate supporters. Undecideds had the lowest voter registration rates with 57.3% of them indicating they were registered to vote.  Romney and undecided respondents had higher percentages of individuals in the first time voter age cohort (43.2% and 40.8% respectively) than the Obama and alternative candidate respondents (31.0% and 30.3% respectively).

Overall, all respondents regardless of whom they supported were fairly confident that they would be allowed to vote when they show up at the polls and that for the most part it would be a short process (i.e. under an hour). In general, those who indicated strong candidate support, believed that their vote would make a small to significant positive difference – 67.2% of Obama supporters and 73.1% of Romney supporters.  And while many undecided and alternative candidate supporters also believe their vote would make a small positive difference (41.4% and 34.3% respectively), they were much more likely to think that their vote would make no difference at all (37.5% of undecideds and 42.4% of alternative candidate supporters).

On the Issues

Regardless of candidate support, the number one issue that all respondents would like politicians to do something about was“jobs and the economy”.  For Obama supporters, the number two issue was “cost of college and student loans” followed by “healthcare.”  The second and third concerns for Romney supporters and undecideds were the “federal budget deficit” followed by “healthcare” and supporters of an alternative candidate ranked “quality of education” and “cost of college and students loans” as tied for second.

Please tell me which one of these you would most like for politicians to do something about? Obama Undecided Romney Someone Else All Youth
Jobs and economy 36.8% 32.8% 31.7% 33.7% 34.1%
Quality of education 8.4% 4.4% 1.0% 11.2% 5.5%
The cost of college and student loans 15.4% 9.5% 9.1% 11.2% 11.8%
Federal budget deficit 3.0% 10.6% 23.5% 9.2% 10.9%
Social security and retirement 2.1% 2.7% 4.1% 3.1% 2.8%
Health care 10.6% 10.2% 7.2% 10.2% 9.6%
Gas prices 4.4% 5.6% 4.8% 5.1% 4.9%
Taxes 1.7% 6.8% 3.8% 4.1% 3.9%
Immigration 4.4% 2.9% 4.1% 6.1% 4.0%
Iran .6% 1.5% 1.9% 0.0% 1.2%
Gay rights 4.4% 6.2% .7% 1.0% 3.8%
Terrorism and homeland security 1.0% 1.2% 4.8% 2.0% 2.1%
Environment and climate change 3.7% 2.1% 1.2% 2.0% 2.5%
Violence and drugs 3.3% 3.5% 2.2% 1.0% 3.0%

NOTE:  highlighted cells indicated interesting differences amongst support  types.

Respondents were also asked about a range of other current controversial issues.  Again, strong Obama and Romney supporters towed party lines with undecided respondents and those seeking someone else less sure or split in their support.  For instance, a proposal to tax those making over $1 million dollars a year at a minimum of 30 percent, the Buffet Rule, found 72.8% of Obama supporters in favor of such legislation while only 32.1% of Romney supporters indicated support.  Undecideds and alternative candidate supporters hovered around the 50% support marker with 40.9% and 54% respectively.  The only issue that was not so clearly cut was regarding support of the national healthcare reform, where over half of undecideds (53.4%) and those seeking an alternative (52.0%) did not know whether they supported the legislation or not.  About a third of Obama (35.6%) and Romney (30.2%) were equally as unsure about their stance on the new law.

Indication of Support for Key Controversial Issues

Obama Undecided Romney Someone Else All Youth
Buffet Rule 72.8% 40.9% 32.1% 54.0% 51.8%
Police Verification of Legal Residency Status 29.1% 46.4% 80.5% 52.5% 48.8%
Pathway for Children of Illegal Immigrants 67.1% 43.5% 30.4% 53.5% 49.9%
Same-Sex Marriage 67.5% 48.7% 24.0% 57.6% 50.2%
Changes to Healthcare System 58.2% 20.2% 8.6% 8.2% 31.2%


These are some of the results of a CIRCLE poll commissioned by the Youth Engagement Fund and conducted by Knowledge Networks. Knowledge Networks administers nationally representative surveys built on a random sample of households. Recruited households are given Internet access if needed. Between June 22 and July 2, 2012, Knowledge Networks surveyed 1,695 US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29. African Americans, Latinos, and individuals who have never attended college were oversampled, but unless otherwise noted, this press release reports nationally-representative statistics. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.

2 Responses to “68% of Currently-Undecided Youth Voted for Obama in 2008, 28% for McCain; Romney Supporters Less Likely to be Unemployed, while 86% of Obama supporters “admiring” or “satisfied” with him”

  1. Gene Koo Says:

    How do these figures compare with historical data on youth vote? I’m curious if young people generally default to “undecided” at a higher rate than older voters. Also whether “undecided” really means “undecided,” or (like “independent”) the respondents have a strong lean but just don’t want to sound biased or unthinking.

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