Forget 2010, the 2012 White House Is a Democratic One
September 13, 2010 3 Comments
Matthew McDermott, Columnist
Following the common political ebb and flow in this country, perceptions affect electoral outcomes, but more importantly, these perceptions can change. Whether the issue may be war, education, abortion or the economy, elections are a soap box for voter discontent. It’s the reason single party power in our Federal Government is rare, and it’s the reason Midterm Elections are usually dismal for the majority. It’s the reason the Obama Administration marched into office with a massive electoral victory, and why 22 months later, the Democratic Party is fast approaching its greatest national loss in over a decade. But the very nature of our political system is the very reason Republicans should not expect even short-term successes after their November landslide.
Growing (and if I may say, rather trite) discussion within the political world has been the Democratic Party’s plummeting poll numbers amongst young voters. Bringing this chatter to the forefront was a recent New York Times’ article expressing that the youth vote this year is “up for grabs.” Polling this year by the Pew Research Center shows that Democrats hold a 20-point lead (57-37 percent) over the Republican Party among 18-29 year-olds. While still a massive party advantage, this is down from the 32-point lead (62-30 percent) just two years ago. Was November 2008 merely a blip amongst youth in what otherwise remains an evenly divided country? Doubtful.
Eric Waters wrote a refreshing piece last week on the staggering unemployment of youth in America today. While the national unemployment rate hovers just below 10 percent, among 20-24 year-olds unemployment increases to 15.1 and among teenagers triples to 26.1 percent. It’s only rational to expect these numbers to have a pronounced impact on the Midterm Election, as they have in previous elections. Honestly, I’d quote James Carville, if not for the groan I’d give myself. It’s conventional wisdom to repeat, but it wouldn’t have to be repeated so often if partisans kept in mind historical trends: the economy drives the polls, and when the country is facing economic hardship, the party in power always feel the brunt of criticism.
The outcome in eight weeks will have nothing to do with the President’s ability to resonate with the public and everything to do with the prolonged economic recession. While this administration has taken large strides on issues positively impacting our generation–from easing the student loan process to health care–these measures become irrelevant when students are faced with an inability to find a job. In polling done by Gallup during the last week of August, a whopping 99 percent of responders cited the economy as at least moderately important to their vote for Congress this year. Of that, 62 percent said the economy was “extremely important.” This was followed closely by “jobs,” extremely important to 60 percent of voters.
Republicans should learn from their own history. At this point in 1982, President Reagan had nearly identical approval ratings as President Obama, in both overall job approval and his handling of the economy. That same year Republicans lost 26 seats in the House, only to have Reagan win one of the largest electoral victories in history two years later. Bill Clinton, having a similar approval rating of 46 percent, was in a similar position. And furthermore, in an interesting note passed along at The Monkey Cage, using CBO’s projected real GDP growth for 2012, President Obama should expect a popular vote win margin in the next Presidential election of eight percent, give or take seven. In layman’s terms, that suggests an 85-90 percent chance of reelection in 2012, regardless of the expected electoral trouncing this November. Essentially the outcome in November will be the same outcome predicted by reasonable political scientists for over a year–dismal for the Democratic party–but suggestive of nothing more than voter economic discontent.
More concerning for the Republican Party—beyond the evolving demographic changes in this country—is the fact that this country continues to become more socially liberal over time. Obviously, young people are out of work, out of money, and furious–and rightfully so. But most shocking in the Pew Center poll is that Republicans continue to have abysmal success in recruiting these economically strapped voters. Only 24 percent of youth identify as Republican, an insignificant change from the 22 percent in 2008. Their report notes:
While the Republican Party picked up support from Millennials during 2009, this age group continues to favor the Democratic Party more than do other generations. And the underlying political values of this new generation continue to be significantly more liberal than those of other generations on many measures.
Latest polling indicates that 29 percent of youth identify as liberal, while 28 percent identify as conservative. Comparatively, only 18 percent of Baby Boomers identify as liberal compared to 43 percent conservative. Beyond social stances on gay marriage and immigration, the same Pew research highlights that youth today have an intrinsically greater support for government and lower support for aggressive defense policies.
So should Democrats prepare their box of tissues for November 2nd? Honestly, I’d take a large sedative Tuesday afternoon and sleep before the polls close. But what the youth must realize–and I think they do realize much more so than older generations–is that long-term Democratic and liberal roots continue to solidify among 18-29 year-olds. America’s young people have not become much more conservative in the last 24 months; they’ve simply turned their attention to their bank accounts and forgotten the ballot box. Current economic hardships eventually will wither, and the Republican Party will be left unable to measure up on non-economic policy platforms.