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Who you gonna believe?

Mark Penn in the New York Times:

Sure, young people voted heavily for Mr. Obama, but they voted heavily for John Kerry . . .

The exit polls:


Yes, maybe the exit polls were wrong here, but considering Penn’s article was otherwise peppered with exit poll statistics, so I don’t think that’s the issue.

So what happened?

My guess is that Penn had a storyline he wanted to focus on—the trends among minorities and upper-income voters—and so he wanted to dismiss any alternative explanations. But I think this is a misconception—the idea that a story has to be simple. Penn’s big story can be important but there’s no need for him to try to artificially strengthen it by dismissing the big changes in the under-30 vote. Lots of things are going on at once here.

P.S. Somebody pointed out to me that the only demographic group that Kerry won in 2004 was 18-29. I don’t think this gets Penn off the hook, though. Obama’s victory among the under-30s was so much bigger than Kerry’s, that I thought it was highly misleading for Penn to write, “Sure, young people voted heavily for Mr. Obama, but they voted heavily for John Kerry . . .” His first “heavily” is over a 30-point gap; his second “heavily” is a 10-point gap. He’s using English words to equate two numbers that are much much difference. I’m not saying Penn did this on purpose, but I’d still classify it as a mistake.


  1. […] prof over at Columbia points out my work: I have to say I prefer a college freshman’s plot to yours, Andrew. Although, you did hack it together at 3am after strolling around Grant Park. And drawing […]

  2. Lee says:

    Can you post the data for that graph please?

  3. Andrew says:

    Data came from the CNN website. I interpolated to get comparable age groups for all three elections.