New Hampshire primary: Will youth vote bring it on Tuesday?

Young people in New Hampshire turn out to vote more reliably than do their counterparts nationwide, data show. Ron Paul tops the youth vote heading into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, a new poll shows.

Michael Dwyer/AP
In this November 2011 photo, Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets a young supporter during a town hall event in Peterborough, N.H.

Almost 200,000 18- to 29-year olds are eligible to vote in New Hampshire. They're a small share of the electorate, but they could play an important role in next Tuesday's primary, given that young voters in the Granite State tend to show up at the ballot box more often than do their counterparts nationwide.

Since 1998, they’ve cast ballots in general elections at a higher-than-average rate, reports CIRCLE, a research center on youth and politics at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The high-water mark may have been 2008, when 43 percent of young citizens here participated in the primary elections, amid active races among both Republicans and Democrats. About 33,000 voters under 30 cast ballots that year in the Republican primary, but 39 percent of them said they were "independents."

In 2004, when there was just one competitive primary, 18 percent of the youth segment participated in New Hampshire.

Last week in Iowa, just 4 percent of young citizens showed up to the caucuses, down from 13 percent in 2008, when both parties had competitive presidential races. Tuesday will tell whether New Hampshire youths once again can claim a higher turnout. Of course, casting a ballot is quicker than voting at an in-person caucus, so it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. (The statistics above are from CIRCLE).

Who might the youth vote favor this time around? A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released Friday afternoon offered some insight. Among 18- to 34-year-olds likely to vote in the Republican primary:
• 45 percent plan to vote for Ron Paul.
• 35 percent favor Mitt Romney.
• 4 percent support Rick Santorum.
• 2 percent support Jon Huntsman Jr.
• 2 percent support Newt Gingrich
• 61 percent said a candidate's position on issues is important, compared with 12 percent who said it is important that the candidate could beat President Obama.
Keep in mind this is a small sample. Of 631 likely voters who completed the survey, only about 6 percent, 37 people, were in the 18- to 34-year-old category.

Rick Santorum wasn’t much on people’s radar screens in New Hampshire before his strong finish in Iowa. But he appeared this week at College Convention 2012 at New England College in Henniker, N.H., which draws students from around the country.

He made headlines for a contentious back and forth Thursday with college students over the gay-marriage issue, but at least the forum gave young voters an opportunity to check out the sweater-vested man who has been in the limelight of late.

Most of the New Hampshire college students staffing the event favored Jon Huntsman Jr., says Wayne Lesperance Jr., a political science professor who organized the event. Indeed, Mr. Huntsman won a straw poll at the convention, taking 196 of the 424 Republican votes cast.

Candidate Buddy Roemer also attended. Ron Paul would have had a rapt audience, but canceled his appearance there due to scheduling, Professor Lesperance says.

Instead, Mr. Paul came up indirectly Friday morning when someone asked Mr. Huntsman about a new Youtube video from a group supporting Paul that casts suspicion on Huntsman’s values and patriotism because of his experience in China.

A teacher asked what our society had come to when a candidate is criticized for speaking a foreign language. Huntsman responded that what bothered him more was the footage of his adopted children – one from China and one from India – and the suggestion that there was somehow something nefarious or un-American about that, Lesperance says.

The Paul campaign on Friday called the video “distasteful,” reports.

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