Democrats Win Youth, But Republicans Have a Chance

But these kids aren't just knee-jerk lefties. So Republicans can hope they grow to the right.

By + More

By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

OK, young voters. Your turn. The "millennial generation" is the subject of today's analysis, as we continue to sift through the commentary and statistics presented at the joint Brookings Institution/American Enterprise Institute conference on American political demography last Friday.

Once again, the news is bad for the Republican Party. The kids went Democratic. Big time. By 66 to 31 percent.

Indeed, the difference between younger and older voters was greater in the 2008 election, said Pew Research Center analyst Scott Keeter, than in any election since exit polling began.

This is not to say that Barack Obama won only because of his appeal with younger voters. Yesterday we broke down the electorate by race, and showed his strength across the board.

But it is significant that young voters went 2 to 1 for Audacity since they are, of course, the future. And John Kerry also did well with younger voters in 2004, Keeter noted.

In part, the Democratic Party's appeal is due to its diversity. It is the big tent these days, welcoming voters of all races, faiths, and age groups, while the Republicans seem bound on a course of geographic and ideological purification. The GOP is sailing against the tide. In 2000, 74 percent of youthful voters were white. But last November, reflecting the demographic trends that are transforming the U.S. population as a whole, that portion slipped to 62 percent.

Also, "these voters came of age during the latter part of Bill Clinton's presidency," said Keeter, "which was generally good for the Democrats, or during George W. Bush's presidency, which was generally bad for the Republican Party."

Disastrous wars and economies can wreck presidencies and shatter political coalitions, so nothing is for sure. But younger voters seem temperamentally more akin with the Democrats right now. They are generally embracing liberal views on issues like the role of government and government regulation, equal rights for gays and other minorities, and traditional family values.

"These values, along with their impressions of the parties," said Keeter, "have given the Democratic Party a big advantage in identification among young people."

There is, however, a strategic opening for the GOP: The young folks are not appreciably different from older cohorts when asked for their opinion about making money, the role of business, the environment, or government entitlement programs.

In other words, this generation of young folks is more pragmatic, and libertarian, than rigidly lefty. If the GOP can get over its hangups about sexuality and diversity, and the Democrats don't revive the economy, there's room for a Republican comeback.

Check out our political cartoons.

Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our new digital magazine.