Did 'youth vote' boost Clinton? Clear answer: A definite maybe

November 05, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

Bill Clinton played saxophone on Arsenio Hall's TV show and took his case for change to fans of rap and "death metal" music on MTV.

Mr. Clinton also was the first major-party presidential nominee to be born after World War II.

Meanwhile, the economy was in the toilet and billionaire outsider Ross Perot was keeping the race entertaining.

So, many pre-election analysts figured Mr. Clinton was a shoo-in to earn a heavy "youth vote" Tuesday.

Did it happen? The answer is a definite maybe.

There is no doubt that the Bill Clinton-Al Gore Democratic ticket turned around the 1980s trend of young people, like the population at large, favoring the Republican Party.

According to exit-polling information reported on CNN yesterday, 50 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted Democratic, compared with 30 percent for the Republicans and 20 percent for Mr. Perot.

This would seem to indicate that they were more entranced by the Democrats than was the electorate at large, which gave Mr. Clinton a 43-38-19 win over President Bush and Mr. Perot in the popular vote.

"There was a certain excitement, a sense of a new age coming," said David Nathan, 25, a cook from the North Side of Chicago. "Clinton seemed to represent the real ideal of civil liberties and tolerance of humanity."

But the exit-poll numbers for a broader segment of the young population -- 18- to 29-year-olds -- show them once again voting more in line with the population as a whole, as young people did in 1984 and 1988.

The broader age segment, according to a published report on the same national exit polls, gave Mr. Clinton a thinner victory: 44 percent, compared with 33 percent for Mr. Bush and 23 percent for Mr. Perot.

The youth vote's contribution to the Democrat's triumph was "minimal," according to Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. "The percentage of youth in the electorate in exit polls is the same as in 1988," he said.

Mr. Gans cautioned that exit-poll numbers for young voters are ++ the most unreliable because they are most likely to turn down requests to participate in the polls, potentially skewing the results.

"This was an anti-recession, anti-Bush, anti-read-my-lips election," said Mr. Gans, who noted that most of the 5-percentage-point increase in turnout over 1988 can almost surely be traced to "the Perot candidacy."

Pat Hagara, 28, a Chicago graphic designer, considered voting for Mr. Perot, but she didn't want to feel as though she was wasting her ballot.

Ms. Hagara, who said she sat out the 1988 election, participated Tuesday. "I voted because I wanted to vote for Clinton," she said.

Officials at Rock the Vote in California, a national get-out-the-youth-vote initiative, claimed vindication in exit-poll numbers that seemed to show 18-to-24-year-olds made up a higher percentage of the total vote in 1992 than in 1988 -- 11 percent compared with 9 percent.

"It does look like the proportion of the vote by this age group increased more than the overall population," said Richard Cloward, an advocate of voter-registration reform and author of "Why Americans Don't Vote." "The fact that Clinton spent some time with them makes a difference," he said.

Illinois exit polls showed Mr. Clinton with 51 percent of 18-to-29s, Mr. Bush with 30 percent and Mr. Perot with 19 percent -- little different from the 48-35-17 result in the popular vote.

In the Illinois Senate race, Democratic victor Carol Moseley Braun had her highest level of support among 18-to-29s, beating Republican Rich Williamson 61-39 percent, compared with Ms. Braun's 53-43 percent popular-vote victory.

In student precincts at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, turnout Tuesday was higher than 90 percent, according to Sabryna Cornish, 22, editor of the Northern Star student newspaper.

But Ms. Cornish estimated that the campus vote between Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton was evenly split.

"I voted for Mr. Clinton," she said. "I thought he had a better idea of where to take the country. Bush had already been in there four years and I didn't see anything he had done."

Both College Democrats and College Republicans claimed victories of sorts in Tuesday's results.

"We made significant inroads," said Ellen Marshall, a volunteer with College Democrats. "In states like New Jersey and Ohio, where Clinton's margin of victory wasn't high and we had record numbers of new student registrants this year, students made a difference in bringing those states home."

Looking at the exit-poll numbers, Tony Zagotta, 25, national chairman of College Republicans, said, "I'm not going to sit here and say we did well. Even though we didn't carry the youth vote this year, the one bright spot was that the Democrats did not do as well as was believed."

Told about the 50-30-20 numbers among 18-to-24-year-olds, Mr. Zagotta said, "That's not good news."

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