If there was any voting bloc Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama knew he could count on this Election Day, it was young Americans.

And deliver they did: Nearly seven in 10 voters between the ages of 18 and 29 chose the Illinois senator over Republican presidential candidate John McCain. According to exit polls conducted by CNN, Obama won a majority of the youth vote in 41 states.

In precincts here on the University of Michigan’s campus, a resounding 83 percent of voters selected Obama, while about 15 percent chose McCain. The turnout in campus precincts was an impressive 45 percent.

According to CNN exit polls, young blacks broke for Obama by the largest margin — 95 percent to 4 percent — among young people. 76 percent of young Latinos and 54 percent of young white voters chose the Democratic candidate.

According to preliminary estimates by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), between an estimated 21.6 million to 23.9 million voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted on Tuesday, an increase of more than 2.2 million since 2004.

Obama’s impressive youth support is also the highest share of the youth electorate won by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976, CIRCLE reported.

“We just saw the biggest margins young people have ever given any presidential candidate in young voter history,” said Jane Fleming Kleeb, executive director of Young Voter PAC, a left-leaning youth vote organization. “It’s a testament to the amount of time and sheer amount of money the Obama campaign invested in young people.”

If Obama’s impressive support among young people stands as more voter data is released in the coming days, it would represent a significant increase in youth support compared to the previous presidential election, in which Democrat John Kerry won only 53 percent of the youth vote.

According to CIRCLE, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 made up 18 percent of the electorate — a 1 percent increase from the 1996, 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard University Institute of Politics, hailed the importance of the youth vote in Obama’s convincing victory.

“I think if it wasn’t for the youth vote, at this hour we would still be figuring out who the next president is going to be,” Della Volpe said early Wednesday morning. “I believe it’s the reason Barack Obama won.”

Della Volpe, who leads a biannual public survey of young people published by the Institute of Politics, said it’s more important in the coming days to look at how many eligible young voters did indeed vote in the election.

Between elections in 2000 and 2004, the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots increased from 40 percent to 49 percent. This year, Della Volpe said he anticipated an even greater youth vote turnout.

“The raw numbers, I guarantee, are going to be more, and you’ll have more voters overall,” he said.

A number of precincts on college campuses across the country reported impressive increases in voter turnout.

A precinct at Indiana University at Bloomington reported 3,114 people voted today, while only 804 voted in 2004. At one precinct at the University of Maryland, 1,440 people voted this year compared with only 740 in 2004.

Sujatha Jahagirdar, a program director for Student Public Interest Research Group, said that despite long lines and technical problems on some college campuses, the impressive support among young people for Obama illustrated how passionate young people were about participating in the election.

“There’s no question that young people were engaged and excited and made their voices heard loud and clear,” she said.

Charlie Smith, the national chairman of the College Republican National Committee, said in an interview on Wednesday that it was Obama’s message tailored specifically to young Americans that he thinks helped the Democratic candidate capture so much of the youth vote.

“Senator Obama did an especially good job of pitching a theme and not really a specific ideology,” he said.

That said, Smith didn’t necessarily see young voters’s support for Obama as a repudiation of conservatism.

“It’s not necessarily that there was referendum between liberalism and conservatism, and conservatism lost,” he said. “It was really a confluence of circumstances.”

Having traveled to swing states and college campuses throughout the country as the president of the College Democrats of America, Katie Naranjo said she saw firsthand the importance of young people in electing Obama.

Young people were the ones who helped Obama win Iowa in the January caucuses, Naranjo said. And again, in June, it was young people who played a crucial role in helping Obama secure the Democratic nomination.

“I can tell you that the young people were the heart and soul and the nuts and bolts of this campaign,” said Naranjo, a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

And in overwhelmingly choosing Obama to be the next president, Naranjo added, young people have made it explicitly clear who they believe will best represent them in the White House and who speaks to their interests, desires and concerns about the future of this country.

Even more, Naranjo emphasized the role of young people working behind the scenes for the Obama campaign — “licking the stamps, making the phone calls, volunteering for the campaign.”

She said this inclusiveness will keep young people connected to Obama when his administration takes over in the not-too-distant future.

“This is something that we’ve all done together as a collective unit,” she said. “We’re all in it together.”

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