What a difference 2 years of tough economic times can make. We wrote in 2008 about the fact that over 2/3 of 18-24 year-olds voted Democratic, partly driven by the charisma of Barack Obama. [“Why Republicans are Worried“] Political pundits speculated that this generation could be the bulge in the snake, altering the political equation for years to come in their skewed support for Democrats.
That was then. This is now. This February, Pew Research revealed that young Democrats (“millenials”) were much more on the fence. There was still a 14 point net democratic leaning of millennials (54-40%) but far less dramatic than the 32 percentage point gap in the 2008 elections.
The New York Times claims that young Americans’ political loyalties are now much more up for grabs (“Fewer Young Voters See Themselves as Democrats“), but the evidence seems more mixed on that score than the article’s lede. Since February, Pew Research suggests that, while the democratic advantage among young adults is less than in the 2008 elections, it has actually widened over the last 6 months and is now closer to a 20 percentage point advantage of youth toward Democrats. (see following graphic)
The Times later in the article admits as much: “Self-identification figures for Democrats — in national polls asking young people what party they lean more toward — peaked at 62 percent in July 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. By late last year, the number had dropped eight percentage points, to 54 percent, though researchers saw an uptick earlier this year, back to 57 percent. Republican gains roughly mirrored Democratic losses.”
For sure, everyone agrees that the critical issue is who turns out in November 2010 as party identification matters far less than whether those votes count. This goes for millennials as well as liberals or Tea Party members.
Stay tuned to see whether this generation of youth is likely to alter the long-term equation for democrats or not. And equally important in 2010 and 2012 is whether the new young voters coming to the ballot box have very distinctive views than the young voters who voted in 2004 and 2008.