Are Young Voters Fed Up With The Democrats?

As the midterm elections approach, it seems that many candidates will be courting college students, a demographic that was solidly caught up in the fervor of President Obama’s 2008 campaign.  According to a recent New York Times piece, far fewer twenty-something voters see themselves as Democrats, compared with their party affiliations two years ago.  Citing Pew research, Kirk Johnson writes that who college students vote for – and whether they decide to vote at all – may have a profound impact on the Republicans’ ability to retake the House and Senate, and send a powerful message about my generation, which two years ago was extremely politically engaged.

The problem is, I think Johnson is exaggerating both the magnitude of this shift and what it means for millennials.  As with most NYT trend stories, the whole article is cast in terms of high drama: economic woes are a large component of students’ grievances, and students battle apathy and anger.  Disappointed with Obama, some students think that the Republicans just seem to “care” more.

The Pew Center’s research, which Johnson uses to ground his article, was published last February and shows that support for the Democrats among millennials weakened markedly over the course of 2009.  That doesn’t surprise me.  I’m about to begin my senior year, and since college started, I’ve watched friends graduate and struggle to find jobs.  Understandably, I’m anxious about beginning the process myself, and certainly, I think the government should and could be doing more to end the recession (although extending the Bush tax cuts, as Republicans are proposing, is absolutely the wrong solution). 

I’m sure the economy has something to do with this dip in support for the Democrats among young adults.  But, anecdotally, I don’t think it’s driving people my age away from the party, because they recognize that even though the Democrats aren’t necessarily doing things right, the Republicans would be far worse.  The debates over the tax cuts are illustrating that perfectly.

What Johnson is pointing out is a comedown from one of the most exciting political campaigns in years.  Obama had massive support from young adults because of his message of change, and now that he’s ensconced in the political system, it’s harder to get excited about him.  He inevitably disappoints, and things move slowly.  But the idea that this is a serious bellwether for the way millennials will vote in elections beyond this one is a little absurd. 

Most of Johnson’s article focuses on one Colorado university, composed mostly of in-state students.  For them, the midterm elections may be more pressing, but for many other students, physical distance makes it harder to get excited about congressional elections.  People aren’t talking about their candidates; they’re not on TV; it may be hard to track their progress.  And, as a spokesman for the DNC pointed out in Johnson’s article, voters connected to the 2008 election through a person, Obama, rather than a party.  This is much harder to do during state elections, when people may not know very much about their candidate’s background, voting record, etc.

I will be interested to see whether college students come out in large numbers for the midterm elections – my guess is that they might not.  But I think this has less to do with disappointment with the Democratic party than a sense that midterm elections are inherently less meaningful.  Of course, I hope that this isn’t true, and I suspect that if anything, the presence of extreme Tea Party candidates will nudge more young adults to the polls to vote against them.  But the idea that this signals larger changes in the way that millennials view politics is off-base.  Political enthusiasm ebbs and flows, and this is, after all, just one election.  It’s just as likely that if large numbers of extreme Republicans are elected, young adults will defect from the Republican party.

And although Johnson mentions dissatisfaction with health care reform as one catalyst for this supposed trend, I have to say – most people I know are quite happy that they can now stay on their parents’ health insurance.

Photo from Flickr.


Bill M.
Bill M.7 years ago

I suspect it is because actions have fallen short of the great hype, er sorry I meant hope, machine disillusionment and cynicism have replaced the positive emotions engendered by the President's campaign. Unfortunately, this is bound to happen to a campaign built around a cult of personality and portrayed as the anti-Bush.

As I tend to occupy the narrow line demarcating sceptic from cynic I am disappointed, but not surprised by the democrats tepid legislative victories.

Rather than healthcare reform that bends the long-term cost curve downward and does ensure improved access to high quality healthcare for all we have a "health insurance reform" that will instead enrich health insurance companies that are run by the same type of MBA's that brought you the "great" recession, think AIG.

Instead of ensuring that no bank is "too big to fail" we have limited legislation that will do little more than curn the most egregarious excesses on the part of the financial industry while several of the banks saved by taxpayers are bigger than ever.

All in all although there are some differences between the two parties on social issues when it comes to the economy both political parties are held in thrall to the corporatist cant of "bigger is better." Until corporate money is flushed out of our political system individuals will continue to get screwed by both political parties. For the record I consider tea partiers ideologically associated with the GOP's extreme right wing.

Alex H.
Alex H7 years ago

My impression is that young voters are waiting for Democrats to bring out the Big Guns, and fight back!

Republicans and their hit-people, the Tea Party people, continue to lie about anything and everything the Dems do, making the Bush years appear to be the Obama years. And still, the Dems do nothing to set the record straight.

Republicans and Tea Party people (what kind of tea are they using? The drinking kind, or the smoking kind?) are still using the Big Lie, misdirection, fear tactics, and any other method of scaring people away from the truth.

The Republicans and Tea Partiers wouldn't know the truth if it bit them on the arms!

But what amazes us more is how many good, God-fearing, decent people are buying into the Republican Big Lies.

There was a group in Europe who managed to start a war, but lost it, who used the Big Lie. If they tell a lie often enough, loud enough, and Big enough, people will begin to believe them and when that happens, no amount of truth will overcome the effect they have.

Some of the things they blame Obama for, took place before he was even elected President, yet the Big Liars use the Big Lie to make it appear that Obama is to blame.

Remember that the Republicans stated that all they need do is prevent Obama from succeeding, and they will be happy. This is not the way a true American works. Joining together to fix the problems of this country is how a true Congress works.

Cheers! Fight Back!

Jewels S.
Jewels S7 years ago

I just had a email exchange with a relative about this. She sent me a joke about Obama. Obama made campaign promises, yes, and some he is showing progress with but republicans are blocking at every step. Face it folks our system is broken and we can not allow the old way of doing things to hope to fix it. Unless we get a party system that has more than two parties dominating we will see more and more problems. You can't keep putting a band aid on an open sore. Charli is right, it is up to the people and we are all on different sides. Until we can agree on some sort of consensus in this country we will continue to fail. It is basically divide and conquer but now we are doing it to ourselves. Stop blaming Obama and look at yourself.

Zoraida Colon-collado
Zoraida colon7 years ago

Well on this one, I have to join in with the college students, even if the number is exagerated. BOTH parties have let the common man down and made all manner of laws and hurdles to make it almost impossible to afford college education in America today without getting into a LOT of debt or joining the service and hope you don't get blown to bits before you can get your GI benefits. When we cut the draft, congress and the senate were quick to cut financial aid for college because they knew this would give them the "volunteers" they needed to fight their nasty self-serving wars, which directly, (Cheney, Bush), or indirectly, (everyone else), line their pockets. Their are NO innocents in this political debacle and just about EVERYONE in Washington today deserves at least ONE tar and feather trip to the border! An honest man cannot live among thieves for long, as we all know, so what IS the solution. Certainly not all the extremist bull being bandied about in the Republican Party. Let's see, the common man is ALREADY unemployed, has no more benefits and has lost his house and car, so how can we remedy the situation...hmmm. LET'S CUT MORE WELFARE AND BENEFITS TO THE POOR! That will save us plenty, which we can then GIVE TO THE BIG CORPORATIONS WHO SENT ALL THE MENIAL JOBS OVERSEAS!! What a brilliant plan! That will SURELY stimulate the economy. And by the by, we need to get more tax cuts for the rich, Rush has been complaining.....

Don N.
Donald Nelson7 years ago

American people have the attention spans of gnats. Young people have made "Jersey Shore" the third most watched cable program last week. Those idiots and "real housewives"are setting the bar for Americans today. Their is no hope anymore!

Merryl G.
David G7 years ago

Doris H. Obama is man enough to have taken on all the crap that GW left. He is trying to shovel his way out,but all he gets from the left and right is more crap. I have never heard GW apologize for getting us into a bullshit war,or screwing up the economy. How much do you think this war has cost America? Not just trillions of dollars,but damaged young people that America will have to support for the rest of their lives and rightfully so! I don't see you giving any applause to Clinton for doing a good job. No it is just, blame Obama. Well, take the fine and anyone who doesn't want healthcare can also take the fine. We will just use your portion to pay for my healthcare!

Merryl G.
David G7 years ago

If young people think the Republicans can and will do a better job,they should think twice and then think again.
As Billy Joel's song goes..."We didn't Start the Fire and neither did the Democrats!" If they can't remember what it was like with Pres. Clinton as President,they should look up American History. It will show what a good job the Dems. did before Republican,GW Bush and his cronies screwed America.
Let's not move back with the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh,etc. They are a pretty box,that once opened will release Pandora!

Charli S.
Charlotte S7 years ago

We as American need to take control of our elections. They are no longer working correctly. I for one am tired of choosing between the lesser of 2 evils. And I think these young people will find that BOTH parties only care about staying in power.We need election reform

Margaret M.

John Chase:

Republicans = ENTITLEMENT for the Rich

Doris H.
Doris H.7 years ago

When will you people stop blaiming Bush. Isn't Obama man enough to fix the problems like he said he would during his campaign, or are you truly angry at obama for all the crap he has done. But what the heck just blame Bush. Now no cussing we are all adults here.

One question? When obamacare take into effect .Will you take the fine or the out rageous Obamcare. It might be cheaper to take the fine. What a deal!!!!