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Posted by on Jun 27, 2007 in Politics, Society | 26 comments

Poll: Liberals Are Gaining Among Young People

So liberals may not be ruling talk radio.

But a new poll suggests they are making big inroads among another important force: young people.

And the poll shows that at least some of this is a backlash against the presidency of President George Bush:

Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.

In a snapshot of a group whose energy and idealism have always been as alluring to politicians as its scattered focus and shifting interests have been frustrating, the poll found that substantially more Americans between the ages of 17 and 29 than four years ago are paying attention to the presidential race. But they appeared to be really familiar with only two of the candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats.

They have continued a long-term drift away from the Republican Party, and although they are just as worried as the general population about the outlook for the country and think their generation is likely to be worse off than that of their parents, they retain a belief that their votes can make a difference, the poll found.

Every pivotal (versus the more caretaker) Presidency has some kind of an impact on the formative generation that lived through it. And Bush’s has, too. But if the trend continues, the GOP has some reason for long-term concern:

More than half of Americans between 17 and 29 years old — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008. They share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush, who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group, and of the Republican Party. They hold a markedly more positive view of Democrats than they do of Republicans.

Among this age group, Mr. Bush’s job approval rating after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was more than 8 in 10. Over the course of the next three years, it drifted downward leading into the presidential election of 2004, when 4 out of 10 members of young Americans said they approved how Mr. Bush was handling his job.

At a time when Democrats have made gains after years in which Republicans have dominated Washington, young Americans appear to lean slightly more to the left than the general population: 28 percent described themselves as liberal, compared with 20 percent of the nation at large. And 27 percent called themselves conservative, compared with 32 percent of the general public.

There’s more in the poll, so go to the link.

There are a couple of other factors that will be interesting to watch. How will perceptions, behavior and tone of young people be shaped growing up in a world with Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Jon Stewart (and The Moderate Voice?)?

My DD’s Jonathan Singer, in yet another MUST READ POST that should be read in full writes, in part:

I’ve been trying to track the transformational potential of the Bush presidency — how the tenure of George W. Bush could change the electorate for decades to come to become significantly more Democratic — for some time. Back before the election, for instance, I pointed to the argument that once political and partisan leanings are enshrined in young voters, as they appeared to be doing last fall, they tend stay with that cohort for as long as that cohort stays in the electorate….

….It’s certainly true that political and ideological sentiments can change over time — and even quite rapidly. Along these lines, it’s quite possible that the Democrats will take steps that drastically undercut the good will they have gained among younger voters. Nonetheless, there is a real opportunity for the Democrats to tap into the power of the youth vote to achieve a lasting victory, not only this cycle but in elections to come. And the fact that this polling indicates that 58 percent of younger voters are paying attention to the campaign, up from 35 percent at the same point in the 2004 election cycle, indicates that the youth vote is indeed hankering to be tapped into.

Read it in its entirety.

A couple of things come to mind:

(1) Future controversies about vote counting and election results could be bigger since young people believe their votes make a difference. In that sense, this seems a bit reminiscent of the early 1960s where young people felt they could change the way the country worked and that segment of the young population that felt that way became bitterly disappointed as early 1960s idealism started to vanish due to wrenching events and various policies.

(2) If the GOP is facing a problem with young voters, this problem will be compounded if the party winds up being damaged by whatever the outcome turns out to be in the immigration reform battle. If you have young voters who want to vote and Hispanic voters who are angry and want to vote (or former members of the Republican base who are angry and want to vote) you have a major challenge.

(3) Over the years there have been many stories, polls, etc about young voters but in the end the youth vote has seldom lived up to its described potential. Will it be different in the 21st Century?

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  • superdestroyer

    One of the reasons that 20 somethings are the most Democratic is taht 20 somethings are the least white group of adults. If you look at demograhics, those over 80 are the whitest and every decade less than that is just a little less white.

    Of course, as some of those 20somethings begin to have families, buy homes, fill out 1040 long forms more of them should become more conservative. But since fertility among the elite is low now and whites are having so few children, there is less reason to believe that many of them will change.

    The real question is what will be the U.S. be like as a one party state.

  • Somebody

    Yeah now if they could just get this group to vote it would really account for something.

    My daughter was a democrat until she started raising a family and then her values kicked in and she realized that she liked money in her hands and not the governments. That she wanted to teach her children values that were more consistent with Republican views.

    This is not an endorsement of Republicans so much as it is a reality check. Young are always radical, idealist, and not very rational in their thought processes. Then as SD says, reality sets in and things change.

    I for one see a shift towards the democratic party that is not stoppable because of dynamics. People think the Democrats hold the keys to the kingdom because the Repubs have not opened the door for them.

    After 4-12 years of democratic rule these people will switch most likely back to the Republicans because the Democrats did not open the door to the kingdom either.

    Such is life…We are born, we have optimism, we are idealists, we can solve all the worlds problems and then reality slaps us in the face.

  • AmandaM

    You seriously underestimate today’s young adults if you think we are lacking in values, radical, and irrational. As a whole, we tend to value diversity, family, and possibility. Yet you speak of us as though our values are less important or less valid than your own. Perhaps you have forgotten what it’s like to be in your twenties – starting your own life, getting your first “grown-up” job and paycheck, having to be completely responsible for yourself for the first time. All of those steps are hard, yet we maintain an outlook on the future that is hopeful and idealistic. We are optimists and we are, by and large, good people. I read recently that the current crop of people in their teens and twenties spend more time volunteering and helping others than any previous generation has done. I don’t think it’s right at all for anyone to be so condescending towards a group that, as a whole, is doing what they can to better the nation.

    I am not radical or irrational. I do not lack values. What I am is a believer in the idea that all men and women are born equal under the law, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion. As such, we all have the same rights and responsibilities as American citizens. For every freedom that we have, there is a corresponding need to defend and maintain that freedom. If that means I am a Liberal, then I embrace the label.

    Lately, it seems that the older generations are less concerned with rights than they are with dollar signs. Perhaps it is time to reconsider what you value if the end of Habeus Corpus means less to you than saving $100 on your tax returns or if the ideas of your children and grandchildren are less important than those of your stockbroker.

  • superdestroyer

    It is nice to see a group of talking points posted as the reason for 20 something’s being liberal.

    There is little prima facia evidence that 20 somethings value diversity. Just look at their education choices, their career choices, their area of residence.

    Look at Washington, DC where an army of liberal white 20 somethings live. Yet those same whites avoid black neighborhoods, avoid careers that involve contact with too many minorities, and choose to socialize with their own kinds. To me, when someone tells me they like diversity, what they really mean is that they like Thai and Ethiopian food.

  • SteveK

    AmandaM… Well said.

    SD… Back on your “poor whitey” jag again I see. To equate everything, and every problem, to race comments on who and what you are… not what society is.

  • kritter

    You ignore our history by claiming that 20-somethings are only liberal because of their age, radicalism and naivete. Young people have grown up in a more diverse environment and have been the beneficiaries of more racial progress in society. When I grew up, more working black women were likely to be maids than anything else. Now our secretary of state is a black woman.

    But I believe that liberalism isn’t so much a stage that one passes through, as a state of mind. If environmental concerns, societal inequality and using raw American power as a substitute for diplomacy are problematic for you, you are probably a liberal. Liberalism for me has always offered the hope that we can still be better than we are. It has nothing to do with age, since I have felt that way since my early teens.

  • superdestroyer

    There is nothing poor about whitey in DC. Only the richest, most affluent whites can afford to live in DC and the surrounding suburbs because any neighborhood that is blue collar affordable is overwhelmingly black and is not a place a 20s something white will live. So much for really liking diversity.

    One of the demographic oddities of DC (and probably several other coastal cities in the U.S.) is the almost total lack of blue collar whites. When you meet a blue collar white tradesmen in DC you quickly find out they live in Baltimore County, Hagerstown, Winchester, VA; or on the Eastern Shore.

  • superdestroyer

    I noticed that Amanda avoided the real question. What will it be like to live in a country that is effectively a one party state. Most of those young liberal 20 somethings probably grew up in a place like the suburbs around NYC, Chicago, Philly, etc at are overwhelmingly Democratic. So maybe the young idealisitic liberals will feel comfortable growing up in a country where the only meaningful election will by the Democratic primary when an incumbent is not running for reelection and where the president in choosen almost a year before the inaugural.

  • kritter

    When I was growing up, gay rights were never discussed- gays stayed in the closet, period. But the young people today all know people that they grew up with that are openly gay, and many no longer see them as the boogeymen, unless influenced to do so by intolerant religious beliefs.

    I find it encouraging that the next generation is more open than mine- and mine is more open than my parents. Our life experiences open us up to new possibilities if we can view them with an open mind. For me that is the difference between Liberalism and Conservativism.

  • sd,
    It was only 1.5 years ago that Democrats were crying about the one party Republican state.

  • AmandaM

    I didn’t avoid a real question, I ignored a spurious one. Liberal /= Democrat. They often overlap, but they are certainly not the same thing. As kritter said – liberalism is more a state of mind than a definitive segment of the political spectrum. Frankly, I would prefer to see a multi-party system where we had more choices than just Republican and Democrat. A diversity of ideas, philosophies and candidates would do more for this country than another election cycle with the same old useless candidates and their negative partisanship. I am 26 years old and in my lifetime, there has not been a single presidential election without the names Clinton or Bush on the ballot. That’s not real choice.

    We should have a national primary day about 6 months before the election, campaigns should either be publicly funded or have strict spending limits, and there should be term limits for Senators and Representatives. We should also require that those members of Congress actually spend more time working at their actual jobs than they spend campaigning for re-election.

  • superdestroyer

    The Democrats were not worried about a permanent Republican majority, it was a few “opened minded” liberal writers who refused to look at racial voting patterns and changing demographic of the U.S. I read the Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten and found it very closed minded in its view. It noted that the target campaigning of Karl Rovehad no affect on black voters but refuse to carry the data to its logical conclusion.

    However, with the changing demographic of the U.S. and the hippiness of being liberal (and yes, liberal = Democratic party but Democratic Party /= liberal) the Democratic Party has a massive advantage and over time it will be unable to screw up enouigh to lose the majority (See the District of Columbia for an example of how lousy Democratic politicans have no effect on voting patterns).

  • (and yes, liberal = Democratic party but Democratic Party /= liberal)

    what does that even mean?

  • kritter

    SD- That occurs in both parties. Many of the GOP politicians who are under investigation for Abramoff were reelected in 2006, as were those in the House whose see no evil speak no evil created the Foley scandal. There are many safe districts on both sides where bad politicians are reelected, regardless of performance or whether or not they are corrupt.

  • superdestroyer


    To translate, everyone who considers themselves liberal will vote Democratic (at least in most elections) but not all those who consider themselves Democrats can be considered liberals.

    As 20 something tend to think of themselves as liberals (what they really are could be called social libertarans for theselves but big government for others) they will vote in overwhelming number for the Democratic candidates. For every Ralph Nader or Bernie SAnders they vote for, they will vote for many more Jim Webb’s or Robert Byrds.

    The educated white liberals voting along with the ethnic blocks of blacks and hispanics will give the Democratic party an advantage that cannot be overcome by the Republicans. Then the tipping point will be reached when people will realize that the Republicans are irrelevent and will sto donating or supporting them.

  • SD,
    Okay, I see your point. But in it lies the solution to the one party state you see on the horizon.

    The Democrats versus a true liberal/progressive political party.

  • domajot

    Amanda is a fresh breeze in a stale room.
    If some lose their liberalism as they grow older, too bad for all of us.

    She hit on an important observation about the older generation’s obsession with money. When money is in short supply in a household, it’s understandabe, but the obsession seems to increase, not decrease with the amount one has, iamong the older folk.

    Paying taxes has become ‘wealth distribuion’, but only if it helps other people that one doesn’t like or respect. As long as wealth is distributed to my kind of people (my church), that’s okay. Just keep that money as close to me as possible. It’s a ‘me and my money’ outlook.

    Kudos to Kritter
    for the ‘liberalism is a state of mind’ comment. It’s not a particular political party (not even a Liberal Party) or a closed set of policy choices. It’s a mind open to new and diverse possibilites, and inclusiveness.

    Sure, there are flaws and failures and there is also hypocrisy and a host of shortcomings. Humans are incapable of perfection. Always, however, the liberal gaze stays focused on how to include more people at the table, even when they have to pay for extra chairs in order to accomodate.

  • DLS

    So liberals may not be ruling talk radio.

    But a new poll suggests they are making big inroads among another important force: young people.

    Does anyone seriously believe this is something new?

  • DLS

    The real question is what will be the U.S. be like as a one party state.

    Look at Cyanide Nation (the Rust Belt) now.

  • kritter

    I think the real danger lies not in a one-party state, but in both parties representing special interests more than doing what’s best for the country. With the latest SCOTUS ruling, corporations and other special interests can mount expensive smear campaigns against any representative that doesn’t toe the corporate line. We saw this in the Senate last week where 32 billion meant to spur the creation of alternative fuels was blocked by a group of GOP Senators because the oil conglomerates opposed the provision. I’m having a hard time seeing how that’s in the best interest of our country. Other Senators from Michigan tried to block increasing the CAFE standards, because it would hurt the auto industry and the unions. This is a part of why the US is in such a malaise.

  • Somebody

    WEll said Amanda. Great talking points.

    I rarely just spout stuff to be spouting stuff or to hear myself talk.

    Taken from a report by UC Berkley…the most democratic/liberal college in the world I do believe. Mabey The University of Colorado is in contention but oh well never mind.

    Polls have shown that young people today are more closely aligned with Democrats on cultural issues, such as gay marriage or stem cell research. In 2004, the Kerry campaign focused extensively on the youth vote; those efforts helped get historically apathetic under-30 year-olds to turn out in significantly greater numbers than in previous elections (an increase of nearly 4.6 million since 2000).

    Obviously, if these voters retain their preference for Democrats as they age — and continue to vote in large numbers — it could create big problems for the GOP down the line. Still, Republicans can take comfort in the fact that voters statistically grow more conservative as they get older, particularly once they start earning money and paying taxes.

  • DLS

    Somebody said:

    This is not an endorsement of Republicans so much as it is a reality check. Young are always radical, idealist, and not very rational in their thought processes. Then as SD says, reality sets in and things change.

    Bingo. Welcome to reality.

    People routinely vote Republican because that party is the lesser of two evils, because the Democrats are repellent, not because the Republicans may be attractive. Do you really believe that no one who has ever voted for a Republican candidate for any office has ever done so while holding his or her nose?

  • SteveK

    DLS said,

    Democrats are repellent

    Still got that way with words don’cha DLS… Does your boss know what you’re doing when you’re supposed to be working?

  • DLS

    “not because the Republicans may be attractive”

    [sigh] Try reading the entire text next time.

    In fact, the Republicans often aren’t attractive. What were the 2006 election results like?

  • To translate, everyone who considers themselves liberal will vote Democratic (at least in most elections) but not all those who consider themselves Democrats can be considered liberals.

    I don’t know about that, SD. I consider myself to be socially liberal, and I have tended to vote Libertarian as opposed to Democrat in recent years. Democrats talk the talk about being socially tolerant/libertarian but rarely deliver when it truly counts.

    Also, there is the Green Party, which still manages to attract some liberal/progressive voters.

  • I believe that liberalism isn’t so much a stage that one passes through, as a state of mind. If environmental concerns, societal inequality and using raw American power as a substitute for diplomacy are problematic for you, you are probably a liberal. Liberalism for me has always offered the hope that we can still be better than we are. It has nothing to do with age, since I have felt that way since my early teens.

    Good Lord. Interesting to see that Doma actually responded by saying “kudos,” to this comment. All I see are progressives repeating the talking points they came up with when there was nobody there to argue with them, and then pretend as if those talking points are actually valid.

    Although – it certainly is a state of mind. I’m afraid we differ on what came afterward though.

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