This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

Where’s Alexander? Part VI: Young women at helm of U.S. politics

In my final trip across the nation’s collegiate landscape, I visited students at Mount Holyoke College in South  Hadley, Massachusetts, an all women’s liberal haven. It was quite a contrast to Louisiana’s Tulane University, the first of my two post-election stops.

Mount Holyoke 1916

Ceremony at Mount Holyoke in 1916. Sign reads "Show your faith in the women of Massachusetts, vote yes on the amendment enabling women to vote."

Here twenty-something single women, an electoral bloc instrumental in President Obama’s successful re-election bid, said they could breathe a sigh of relief after the Obama-Biden ticket’s victory this month. What made this sentiment on a New England campus so significant to Obama’s win?

(1) In this year’s contest, President Obama won a 55% majority of women voters and an overwhelming 67% of non-married women.

(2) In the decisive battleground states of Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, President Obama won a greater percentage of women voters than he did in 2008.

(3) The electoral share and, thus, political importance of 18-29 year-old women voters of color increased. As Tufts University’s CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) recorded, “White women’s influence in the youth electorate has decreased since 2008, while Hispanic influence has increased: 42% of young voters were persons of color, and for the first time, the Hispanic youth vote share surpassed the Black youth vote share.”

Mount Holyoke’s student body, like the rapidly changing population of most universities, is very diverse. And while these women arrived at school from a wide swath of backgrounds, they tended to share a similar reaction to this year’s campaign and election results: There was never a viable alternative to President Obama.

The Republican Party nominee’s tolerance of a closed-tent platform alienated young women from the outset of the GOP primary contest. Students said that Governor Romney never addressed their concerns that his 1950s “Mad Men” presidency would turn back the clock on women’s progress.

Based on my interviews, most young women viewed this election in a defensive posture. President Obama staunchly allied himself with such voters, their right to fair pay, their right to reproductive health and rights more broadly. On the other hand, his Republican opponent, these women said, would likely squash these protections. While fodder for television satire and viral Facebook sharing or tweets, Romney’s debate reference to “binders full of women” epitomized how out-of-touch he was with the opposite sex.

As the “Where’s Alexander” series concludes, we ask again: Why report in-depth on the youth vote from the college commons, specifically? For one, as CIRCLE reports in its most recent 2012 election fact sheet, an education gap persists among young voters. More than 66% of youth with college experience turned out to vote compared with only 35% of youth without college experience.

We also remembered the vigorous youth engagement that marked the 2008 presidential campaign and who ushered in the Obama presidency. Fundamentally, we wanted to know if the youth vote was here to stay. The answer is an emphatic yes. The harsh reality for the GOP is that young women and their dominant pro-Democratic turnout are becoming ingrained in the American electorate.

Thank you for following my reporting on the youth vote from across the country. As I consider grassroots youth engagement beyond the Obama era, please continue to track my reporting here, where I will build on my findings from this fall in a longer format.

  • thumb
      Subversive learning?
    Need to Know travels to Tucson, Arizona, where a years-long dispute over a Mexican-American studies program has tensions high.
  • thumb
    Following the money: Tax breaks
    New CBO report echoes the findings of Need to Know's "A tale or four tax returns."
  • thumb
    Mixed-status families
    From PBS NewsHour: Listen to the stories of families who are struggling with separation or being forced to leave the United States.