Whither the youth vote? A year after backing Barack Obama by an overwhelming 2-to-1 ratio, young adults are quickly cooling toward Democrats amid dissatisfaction over the lack of change in Washington and an escalating war in Afghanistan.
A study by the Pew Research Center, being released Wednesday, spotlights the eroding support of people 18 to 29 years old whose strong turnout in November 2008 was touted by some demographers as the start of a new Democratic movement.
The findings are significant because they offer further proof that the diverse coalition of voters Mr. Obama cobbled together in 2008 - including high numbers of first-timers, young minorities and youths - are not Democratic Party voters who can necessarily be counted on.
While young adults remain decidedly more liberal, the survey found the Democratic advantage among people 18 to 29 years old has substantially narrowed - from a record 62 percent identifying as Democrat versus 30 percent for the GOP in 2008, down to 54 percent versus 40 percent last December. It was the largest percentage point jump in those who identified or leaned Republican among all the voting-age groups.
Young adults' voting enthusiasm also crumbled.
During the presidential election, turnout among people 18 to 29 was the highest in years, making up roughly 20 percent of the voters in many states including Virginia and New Jersey, in part because of high participation from young blacks and Hispanics.
That percentage, however, dropped by half for the gubernatorial races in those states last November when Republicans celebrated wins as black groups pushed Mr. Obama to do more to soften the economic blow from mortgage foreclosures and Hispanics saw little progress on immigration reform. Young adults were also the least likely of any age group to identify themselves as regular voters.
"This is a generation of young adults who made a big splash politically in 2008," said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report. "But a year and a half later, they show signs of disillusionment with the president - and, perhaps, with politics itself."
Democrats saw evidence of this last November, when Republicans toppled Democrats from power in governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia. Young, minority and new voters whom Mr. Obama pulled into the fold in 2008 didn't turn out at the same levels for the two Democratic candidates. The same thing happened in the Massachusetts Senate race last month.
The lesson: Neither party has a hold on people 18 to 29 years old. They tend to vote far less than other age groups, yet they have proven to be a powerful constituency if they are persuaded to vote. And that means the race is on by both Republicans and Democrats to make inroads into the next generation of voters.
According to the Pew survey, large numbers of young adults said they personally liked the president but were dissatisfied with his rate of progress in changing Washington, such as improving the economy and fixing health care. Just 46 percent of 18-to-29 age group said they believed Mr. Obama had changed Washington, compared with 48 percent who said he had not. Only baby boomers were more cynical, with 52 percent saying Mr. Obama had not changed the way things work in Washington.
The young adults also were the only age group in which more disapproved than approved of Mr. Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan. Only 34 percent supported his decision in December to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the region, while 50 percent disapproved.
Still, when asked why Mr, Obama hadn't done more to bring change, young adults were somewhat forgiving, with about 60 percent blaming the president's opponents and special interests; only 25 percent said Mr. Obama was the one at fault for not trying hard enough.
The findings are part of Pew's broad portrait of the so-called millennial generation, the children of baby boomers who demographers believe can reshape U.S. culture and politics by virtue of their demographic size and political outlook.
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