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Kristin Soltis, a Republican pollster, has an interesting piece at Pollster.com about the challenges confronting the GOP regarding young people. The party’s biggest problem is not that people such as 79-year-old Arlen Specter are leaving; it’s that too few young people are replacing him.
First, she notes what most of us know already: Obama did very well among young voters, and young voters in 2008 tended to self-identify as Democrats rather than Republicans. As Soltis writes, “in 2008, there was a more marked difference between young voters and the overall electorate. While Democrats held a 7-point advantage over Republicans in terms of party identification overall, that advantage jumps to 18 points among voters 18-29.”
But Soltis then looks a little deeper. The real change in party ID among the young, she discovers, occurred not in 2008 but in the 2006 midterm elections. That year, “there was a massive shift toward the Democrats ending in a 12-point Democrat advantage in party identification” among those aged 18-29.
“As it turns out, young voters began abandoning the Republican Party long before Barack Obama was even a serious contender for the presidency,” she writes. “Those pinning the Republican Party’s poor fortunes among young voters on the Obama candidacy miss the source of the problem and certainly underestimate its severity.”
But it is Soltis’ conclusion that is most interesting, because it attacks what has become conventional issue on such matters:
“I’ve been troubled in recent months when discussing the issue of young voters with some fellow Republicans. There seems to be a sort of conventional wisdom that we should expect young voters to trend liberal and Democratic, that the behavior of young voters in 2008 is not serious cause for concern. This stems from a belief in partisanship as a life-cycle factor, that voters start liberal and Democratic and wind up older, conservative, and Republican. But the data paint a very different picture. Take the graph of partisan identification for instance; over the last few decades, young voters have not identified with the Democratic party in substantially higher numbers than voters overall. Even conservatism had its moment among young voters in the 1980’s….
Another bit of conventional wisdom I hear from my fellow Republicans about the youth vote is that they need to vote Democratic twice before they are “locked in for life”, supporting the notion that there is still time to turn the tide among this generation. Unfortunately, given that the shift began in 2006 and not 2008, for many voters the GOP may simply be too late. For the rest, if the Republican Party does not take immediate action to repair its brand, this generation may exhibit similarly low levels of Republican identification for years to come.”