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.
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.
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?
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.