Friday, February 15, 2013

Young Voters: A Counterrevolution?

When young voters exhibited an unusual amount of interest in the 2008 election and voted heavily for Obama, many, including not a few Democrats, thought that it was a temporary case of infatuation with an attractive young candidate. It was certainly assumed by most Republicans that the young people would have lost their enchantment with a candidate who might have been seen as a bit of a disappointment. That is not what happened. While the overwhelming majority again voted for Obama over the Republican candidate, the margin was a bit smaller. Of more interest was the fact that the young voters continued to turn out in large numbers. The fraction of voters in the youngest age group increased from 18% in 2008 to 19% in 2012.

A report from the Pew Research Center provides some interesting data. This chart indicates just how important those young voters were for Obama and the Democrats, and how voting preferences vary as a function of age.

Of perhaps even greater significance is the degree to which the young voters (18-29) distanced themselves from the voting pattern of their elders (30+).

The young have usually tracked closely the voting preferences of the Democratic voters as a whole. However this is the third straight election in which there has been a significant divergence between the young and the older groups. One must go back to the Vietnam War era to see a similar divergence.

Vietnam and the other momentous occurrences of the 1960s heralded a period of significant political change as the young became disenchanted with the war and the constraints that they felt society was placing upon them. The political power heading into the 1960s resided in those continuing to carry forward the lessons learned from the New Deal. Many thought that the helping hand of the Great Depression had transitioned to the heavy hand of the postwar era. A variety of factors combined to lead a resurgence of conservative sentiment, with not a small amount of libertarianism blended in. Could the political activity of the youth of today portend another such shift?

It should not be surprising that the young should become more politically active. It is they who are bearing the greatest burden from the dysfunctional economy of recent years. Employment prospects are dreadful, and they are forced to accumulate enormous debt burdens in order to attain degrees that don’t seem to mean much anymore. Long-term prospects look decidedly grim.

Could it be that it is time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction? Is there again a need for the government to extend a helping hand again? Sheryl Gay Stolberg investigated this idea in a rather unlikely location: Missoula, Montana. Her findings appeared in an article in the New York Times: A Growing Trend: Young, Liberal and Open to Big Government.

"This funky college town, nestled along two rivers where five mountain ranges converge, has long been a liberal pocket, an isolated speck of blue in a deeply red state. Now Montana is electing more politicians who lean that way, thanks to a different-minded generation of young voters animated by the recession and social issues."

The people interviewed for the article, mostly students, seem driven not so much by party affiliation as by a recognition that something has to be done. Therefore, they had better vote for those who seem interested in addressing the issues important to them.

"It is no secret that young voters tilt left on social issues like immigration and gay rights. But these students, and dozens of other young people interviewed here last week, give voice to a trend that is surprising pollsters and jangling the nerves of Republicans. On a central philosophical question of the day — the size and scope of the federal government — a clear majority of young people embraces President Obama’s notion that it can be a constructive force...." "’Young people absolutely believe that there’s a role for government,’ said Matt Singer, a founder of Forward Montana, a left-leaning though officially nonpartisan group that seeks to engage young people in politics. ‘At the same time, this is not a generation of socialists. They are highly entrepreneurial, and know that some of what it takes to create an environment where they can do their own exciting, creative things is having basic systems that work’."

Minorities are more heavily represented in the ranks of young voters so it is not surprising that there is a tilt towards issues of concern to those groups. Another chart from the Pew report details the alignment of young voters’ sentiments on several topics.

What has this activism meant for what should be a safe Republican state?

"Here in Montana, a state that backed John McCain in 2008 and Mr. Romney last year, voters under 30 have helped elect two Democratic senators and a new Democratic governor. Nationally, young voters have since 2004 been casting their ballots for Democrats by far wider margins than previous young generations — a shift that could reshape American politics for decades."

Pay attention if the young are truly on the move. They have much at stake, they have a lot of energy, and they are going to be around for a very long time.

1 comment:

  1. Nice analysis report, it seems Mr Obama is more popular in the young voters.
    Good report presentation thanks for this valuable information.Industry Analysis Report


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