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Obama's turnout historical in numbers, diversity

The estimated 136 million Americans who voted are part of a radical transformation of American politics – and not just in terms of ideology and party identification.

By Staff writer / November 5, 2008

People lined up to vote at a polling station on election day in Washington.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters


New York

The turn-out was record high. The voters: a rich palate of American diversity – women, blacks, Hispanics, whites – young people and old.

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They made history – redrawing the nation’s electoral map, turning red states blue, and confounding the cynics as they elected the nation’s first African-American President.

An estimated 136 million Americans – as many as 66 percent, the most since 1908 – pulled a lever, touched a screen, or filled in ballot. They are part of a radical transformation of American politics – not just in terms of ideology and party identification. It goes much further than that.

President-elect Barack Obama, harnessing the lightening speed of digital technology, tapped a new generation of young people, inspiring them to work, knock on doors, make phone calls, convince their parents, friends, neighbors, and grandparents that there was something in America still worth fighting for.

Early analyses of the electorate show the percentage of the voting population that was young – 18 to 24 – increased only a percentage or two from past elections to 18 percent. But in terms of actual numbers who turned up at the polls, their percentage increase is expected to far outpace that of other demographic groups. And their support for the Illinois senator is considered pivotal. The “under 30’s” voted for Obama 66 percent to 32 percent for his rival John McCain.

“That could well make them the deciding factor in this election,” says Ian Rowe, MTV's vice president of strategic partnerships. “We’re entering a new era – not only in terms of voting, we’re entering a new millennial presidency – it’s not only that young people turned out in big numbers, but also the way in which they were engaged in the process. There’s a whole new level of transparency and access that Obama as president will utilize to much more engage young people.”

That was evident in the way Obama reacted to his win. He chose first to send an email to supporters thanking them, before heading out to speak in the glare of television klieg lights to the throngs of tens of thousands of cheering - some tearing-up - supporters at Grant Park on Tuesday night.

“I want to be very clear about one thing...” he wrote, in an understated way. “All of this happened because of you. Thank you, Barack.”

Across the board, the economy was the main thing on voters’ minds, whether they were young, African-American or Hispanic, or suburban whites. Six in ten voters said the pocket book issues, including health care, were top on their agendas. That helped Obama cement victory with key independent voters, which he won by a comfortable margin, according to exit polls. It also helped him win suburban voters, who for the last decade had been trending Republican. The majority of women also pulled the lever for the Illinois senator, as did 96 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanic voters.