Nate Silver, whose site FiveThirtyEight provides superb analysis of the upcoming presidential contest, wrote Sunday for the more traditional media with this interesting Op-Ed in the New York Post. (Complete with cool graph!)
Silver throws a bit of cold water on the idea that the youth vote is something Democrats should be counting on this year. And history, as he points out, is on his side. But the dismal turnout numbers he cites are for the 18-to-24 subset of the youth vote, which is often grouped more broadly to include those 25 to 29, who register and turn out at higher rates. Still, even 18-to-29-year-olds rank lowest of any American age cohort in turnount.
What will matter a little for Democrats, and Barack Obama in particular, is that this group will probably turn out at a rate a few percentage points higher than four years ago. But what could matter a lot for Democrats and Obama is if their share of the youth vote is several points better this cycle than for John Kerry in 2004.
On a related note, there is a new Democracy Corps poll showing that the economy, not the war, is the key to keeping the youth vote. You can read that report and take a gander at the underlying survey results here.