Young Americans elected President Barack Obama, but his poor performance in office may turn young people coming of age during his tenure into conservatives.
Writing in the New York Times, David Leonhardt recalled that “less than a generation after young people were marching for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, they voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan.” He used that example to note that the “temporary nature of the 1960s should serve as a reminder that politics change” — “what seems permanent can become fleeting. And the Democratic Party, for all its strengths among Americans under 40, has some serious vulnerabilities, too”:
In the simplest terms, the Democrats control the White House (and, for now, the Senate) at a time when the country is struggling. Economic growth has been disappointing for almost 15 years now. Most Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Our foreign policy often seems messy and complex, at best.
To Americans in their 20s and early 30s — the so-called millennials — many of these problems have their roots in George W. Bush’s presidency. But think about people who were born in 1998, the youngest eligible voters in the next presidential election. They are too young to remember much about the Bush years or the excitement surrounding the first Obama presidential campaign. They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world’s problems.
“We’re in a period in which the federal government is simply not performing,” Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center told the Times. “And that can’t be good for the Democrats.”
Leonhardt cites academic research that “has found that generations do indeed have ideological identities,” and “people are particularly shaped by events as they first become aware of the world, starting as young as 10 years old.”
Younger Americans are more diverse than they were in the 1960s, as Leonhardt notes, and Americans of Hispanic and Asian descent overwhelmingly voted for Obama during the last two elections. The challenge for Republicans is get Hispanics and Asians to move more to the right just like the Italians and Irish did to elect Ronald Reagan.