Younger voters help Obama in Missouri; older voters go Clinton

Thursday, February 7, 2008
Barack Obama supporter Paxton Williams of Joplin gives a thumbs up to a fellow Obama supporter as he holds up a sign in Joplin, Mo., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/The Joplin Globe, T. Rob Brown)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri voters have long been divided among Democrats and Republicans and urban and rural residents, making them an uncannily reliable predictor of presidential elections.

Missouri's primary elections revealed another divide that played a pivotal role: Age.

Younger Missourians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday for Barack Obama while older Missourians voted predominantly for Clinton. The result was that Obama narrowly carried the statewide vote, but he and Clinton shared the state's 72 delegates at stake Tuesday.

Although not as pronounced as in the Democratic race, a stronger youth vote for Mike Huckabee in Missouri also helps explain why he came close to upsetting the Republican national frontrunner, John McCain.

Clinton carried almost all of Missouri geographically. But Obama overcame Clinton in St. Louis city and county and Kansas City, and also fared well in several college towns.

Voters head to their polling place inside St. Lucas Church to cast their ballots Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In Boone County, home of the flagship campus of the University of Missouri, Obama won 60 percent of the vote -- an enhanced accomplishment because voters there turned out at a slightly higher rate than the statewide rate of 36.5 percent.

Obama bucked Clinton's rural strength by carrying Nodaway County, home of Northwest Missouri State University. He trailed Clinton by smaller margins than the rural norm in Adair County (home of Truman State University), Johnson County (site of the University of Central Missouri) and Phelps County (home of Missouri University of Science and Technology).

Truman State University sociology professor Elaine McDuff said she heard more students than typical talking about voting in the presidential primaries. Their attraction to Obama is twofold: His message emphasizes change and his background (coming from a mixed race, split-parent home) gives him credentials as an anti-establishment candidate, she said.

"I think there really is a lot of idealism in this generation and concern about social issues, but not a lot of confidence that existing structures provide opportunities, whether you're talking political structures or institutional structures," McDuff said.

Recent Missouri State University graduate Caleb Copeland, 23, of Springfield, said he voted for Obama and has backed him since the senator spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

"I like the fact that he's young and that he hasn't been too involved in politics, because the people that have been are just corrupt or just have been in there so long they don't have any fresh perspectives. I think Obama can offer those fresh perspectives," Copeland said.

Ruth McKenney, 72, of Springfield, said she had long ago made up her mind to vote for Clinton because of her character and "forthrightness."

"This is her time," said McKenney, a retired Missouri State University theater professor.

Like Obama, McCain built his slim statewide victory largely on his strength in heavily populated St. Louis County, where he more than doubled the vote total of Huckabee.

The exit poll showed Huckabee was the top choice statewide among younger voters. But like Clinton, McCain fared better among older Missourians. The difference is that voters age 18-44 cast a larger portion of the ballots in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary, and Huckabee's youth advantage was not as pronounced as Obama's.

Missouri often is cited as a bellwether state because its voters have come down on the side of the winner in every presidential election except one in the past 100 years. In 1956, Missourians narrowly chose Democrat Adlai Stevenson of neighboring Illinois instead of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.

Underlying Missouri's knack for president picking is the fact that its residents nearly mirror the nation's demographics. Missouri's average age, it's percentage of black population, percentage of married residents and its adults with high school degrees all nearly matched the national averages in the 2000 census.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: