Young People These Days.

Barack Obama cleaned up among voters aged 18 to 29.  In 2008, he won 66 percent of them; in 2012 he won 60 percent of them.[1]  Now, a series of polls suggest that many young people don’t like Donald Trump.[2]  In one poll, people under 35 preferred Hillary Clinton (52 percent) to Trump (19 percent).  Another poll reported that people under 40 preferred Clinton over Trump by two-to-one (roughly 60 percent to 30 percent).

However, the situation is more complicated than that.  A generational divide appears in the polls.  For one thing, the Democratic advantage among young people is dropping.  It has fallen from 66 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2012 to at best 52 percent in 2016.  Indeed, one poll reported that among people aged 19 to 26, while a mere 9 percent preferred Trump, only 11 percent preferred Clinton.[3]  Young people want “that hopey-changey thing.”   Either failing to deliver on it or looking like you don’t believe in it in the first place can hurt a candidate.

The same poll reported that 31 percent preferred Bernie Sanders.  Young people lean left.  Their big concerns appear to be related to the distribution of benefits from the economy: the cost of college; student debt that results from that cost, and the “economic inequality” that makes it difficult to pay off that debt.  The poll that reported Bernie Sanders drawing 31 percent of those aged 19 to 26 years, also reported that 58 percent saw socialism as a more humane system than capitalism, while 33 percent saw capitalism as a more humane system than socialism.  That’s bad for Republicans without being good for mainstream Democrats.  Yet another poll reported that Trump was favored over other Republican candidates by 26 percent of the 18 to 34.  (OK, the poll didn’t report how many Republicans are 18 to 34.)

This preference could have long term consequences when looking forward.  At least one study suggests that the most important period for setting political preferences comes between the ages of 14 and 24 years of age.  “Events”—impressions, really—that happen at age 18 are three times as influential as things that happen at age 40.  So, would a Donald Trump candidacy sink the Republican Party for a whole generation by alienating young people?

However, the same theory can be applied looking backward.  One poll showed that Clinton and Trump running a dead-heat among voters over 40 years of age.  If their formative political experiences came between ages 14 and 24, then, for those aged:

40-50: born 1965-1975; formative experiences from 1979-1999.

50-60: born 1955-1965; formative experiences from 1969-1989.

60-70: born 1945-1955; formative experiences from 1959-1979.

If any of this is true, then—at least in psychological terms–there is a good chance that the election of 2016 will be about our troubled past.  To seek the dark cloud around any silver lining, this might mean that the election will be about flunked wars; unsettling technological change  that never seems to work to the advantage of the country that creates so much of it; economic upheaval that profits the few; scandal-plagued presidencies; now-ancient grievances; and big talk from politicians that rarely turns into effective action

            Despite the rhetoric about a “great America,” it will not be about the possible futures of our children.  They will not thank us.  Nor should they.

[1] Why the drop in support of almost 10 percent among this age group?  Did a bunch of them age-out and become more conservative?

[2] Toni Monkovic, “Lasting Damage for G.O.P.?  The Young Reject Trump,” NYT, 24 March 2016.  Well, Trump’s got a thick hide.  He’ll survive.

[3] So, pretty much a dead heat.  Just in a race for the bottom.

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2 thoughts on “Young People These Days.

  1. Not all young people are liberals, or conservatives for that matter. A lot of us sit on the fence. We are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. We are young outsiders. We are fed up with both parties and end up supporting huge outsiders who probably won’t win: like trump or bernie.

    Come check out my new blog:

    THE POLITICAL PUNK DUDE

    and see what it’s like to be young, party-less, and Pissed off. Punk attitude and political insight

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