Examining the "Youth Vote"
Ever since McGovern, Democrats repeatedly staked their electoral hopes on an expended avalanch of young voters. This year, it appeared to happen, with Obama winning the votes of 18-29 year olds in a landslide:
Democratic brand domination was the corollary to Obama’s 66%-32% blowout among 18-29 year-old voters. The youth also voted 63%-34% for House Democrats. So, young voters also voted straight ticket for the Democrats down ballot. The real story about the youth vote is not how many “new” voters Obama got to show up, but rather how he produced a gargantuan 34% differential in the youth, versus a 9% margin for Kerry in 2004.
In 2008, 18% of the electorate was comprised of 18-29 year-olds. That figure, when multiplied by the 34 percent differential in Obama voting equals 6.1 points, or a majority of Obama’s popular vote margin. Had the Democratic 18-29 year-old vote stayed the same as 2004’s margin, Obama would have won by about 1 to 2 points, and would not have won 73 electoral votes from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, or Indiana. “The Electoral College result would not have been the same, nor can we say that Obama would have won the election,” said Greenberg.
Does this overwhelming Obama victory among young voters represent a strong likelihood that the Democrats have a long rule ahead of them?
It’s always possible, but I don’t think it’s anything like a foregone conclusion. The fact of the matter is that youth have voted Democratic to one extent or another for quite some time. For the last four elections I found the following data:
This year’s youth vote was even more overwhelmingly Democratic than that in 1996, which like this year was a choice between a much older Republican and a Democrat from a younger generation. I think arguably Obama seemed to provide a much starker young vs. old contrast than we saw between Clinton and Dole in ’96.
However, clearly a large youth vote advantage in one year does not necessarily mean those voters will remain loyal Democratic voters from there on out. The youth vote advantage in 2000 and 2004 was there, but pretty anemic. Clearly, a decent percentage of the young people who voted for Clinton in 1996 turned around and supported Bush in 2000.
Also, it’s important to realize that these age-based demographics are buckets that people move in and out of. Single people, people without children, students, and young professionals are all groups who tend heavily towards the Democratic column — in part because those demographics tend heavily towards the sort of atomistic view of society which leaves few subsidiary institutions between the individual and the national government. As people settle down, get married, have children, and achieve career stability, they tend to move rightward in their political preferences.
Note that married people voted for McCain by a margin of 52-47%, while single people voted for Obama by a 65-33% margin which is quite similar to Obama’s edge amoung those 18-29. [source]
So to an extent we can assume that this year’s youth voters will to a great extent settle down and become GOP voters over the next ten years as they get married, move to the suburbs, and have kids.
However, there is a demographic note of caution that should trouble conservatives: People are remaining single longer, having fewer kids (or not having kids) and increashing number of children are born out of wedlock. Unmarried parents vote Democratic by an even wider margin than youth, and this should hardly be a surprise: without the natural support of the traditional family, raising children is a very difficult and uncertain activity, and so it’s natural that those people will look towards the government for help much more than the average.
Thus, the biggest single thing which conservatives should be worrying about as they look towards the future is the shoring up of the traditional vision of the family and society. If our society continues to become even more a sea of broken families and isolated individuals, people will naturally come to rely more and more upon hopes that the government will somehow provide them what local societal institutions no longer do.