The youth vote has always been a moving target for those seeking office and those who research the reasons and patterns of young voters in America. I am personally persuaded that this vote is not one that you can or should be counted upon to build a political base. It is such a fragile, shifting demographic that it is hard to tell what this segment of the populace will actually do from one year to the next.
We all know by now that President Obama did better with the 18-29 age group than any candidate since the vote was lowered to age 18. His poll numbers among this group were very, very good. A lot of analysis has gone into trying to figure out why. What we do know is that this age group voted by an overwhelming 2-1 ratio for Obama. Obama brought together, in 2008, high numbers of first-time voters, large numbers of young minorities and an exploding youth base. Some saw this is the beginning of a new Democratic movement politically.
Recent Pew Research Center data suggests that these voters are cooling towards Democrats in general and even President Obama. Paul Taylor, of Pew Research, recently said, “This is a generation of young adults who made a big splash politically in 2008 [only] a year and a half later show signs of disillusionment with the president and, perhaps, with politics itself.”
Don’t misunderstand this data. Young adults are still more liberal than older segments of the population. But in 2008 62% of this age group said they were Democrats and 30% Republicans. Now the numbers are 54% vs. 40%. That is a huge swing. It was, in fact, the largest percentage point jump by those who identified or leaned Republican among all voting age groups!
According to Pew large numbers in this age group say they still “like” the president but they are growing dissatisfied with the progress of change in Washington. Only 46% of those surveyed in this age group said Obama had made a real difference in changing Washington. 48% said he had made no change!
The only group that disapproved of Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan was the 18-29 age group. These young adults blame Obama’s opponents for his inability to bring about change so this may not signal a huge shift in the end. His appeal with them is still very high, or so it seems.
What is crumbling is voter enthusiasm. This age group has never been dependable on election day and it seems the large turnout in 2008 might not hold true in the future, though these things can change quickly. The Pew Research Center suggests that these numbers actually show that no party has a firm hold on these younger voters.
The millennial generation, those adults who are the children of the younger baby boomers and came of age in the new millennium can, and may, still reshape American politics. They are reshaping religious values and practices already. What is not so clear is what direction they will actually go when all is said and done. The evidence is very strong that we do not know how they will go. I look at this evidence and pray for a spiritual awakening and a new way, what I call the direction of missional-ecumenism. Whether or not these young Americans are Democrats or Republicans matters far less to me than whether or not they become full-orbed followers of Jesus Christ in ever increasing numbers. I think this ought to be the passion of every Christian. This is not a matter of party politics but of the heart and the mind of young Americans. Who will influence these young adults and what will form their worldview in the next decade or so? Those churches and leaders who are really discipling this generation will make the most difference in the end, not President Obama or any other politician.