Young Voters May Give Democrats Staying Power

But a study says those new voters for Obama are not yet locked in.

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The Democratic Party has made impressive gains in attracting young people and new voters, but it still hasn't locked them up for the future, according to Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. "Younger new voters are critical to the party's new growth and positioning," writes Belcher in a memo for the Democratic National Committee obtained by U.S. News. "Approximately 11 percent of our electorate was new, and they broke hard for [Barack] Obama by 57 points; Obama won new voters 68 to 11 [over Republican candidate John McCain] while the race was basically a tossup among the conventional electorate (49 percent Obama to 48 percent McCain)."

Belcher found that 62 percent of new voters were under age 30, and "they are much more likely to come into the process identifying with our party: A near majority of 49 percent identify as Democrats, 28 percent identify as independents, and 19 percent as Republicans." But Belcher warned that "work will be needed to hold on to our gains from this year. New voters aligned themselves with Obama, but will need more convincing to solidify this group for 2012."

"Voters in 2008 were punishing Republicans for poor performance," Belcher said, adding that the Democratic advantages on competence, handing the economy, and other issues "will be risked by adopting positions too far toward the extremes." Belcher also wrote, "Our most significant threat in the next few years is underperforming."

Belcher says the economy trumped every other issue in the 2008 election. "To a certain degree," Belcher said, "one can argue that the wingtipped banker with a foreclosure notice largely replaced the Middle East extremist to the anxious minds of Middle America."

But he added that the economy was only part of the Democrats' success story in 2008. "Dominating the story is Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation-type transformational leader who was able to excite and mobilize legions of new and disproportionately younger voters who changed the face of the American electorate and tipped the balance of power by moving the battle lines away from the bloodied fields where the 1960s-era culture wars had raged for so long."