Are young people finally giving up on Democrats? Don’t bet on it

Republicans will take heart in McClatchy’s latest headline. On Wednesday, the news outlet asserted definitively that Democrats are “losing” their “grip on young voters.” They made this pronouncement after perusing the results of the latest Harvard University survey of voters age 18-29. That poll found that only 55 percent of young people want to see a Democrat in the White House when Barack Obama leaves office. Another 40 percent favor a generic Republican to win the White House in 2016.

That’s down sharply from the 66-32 percent support they gave Obama against Republican John McCain in 2008. It’s also down from the 60-37 percent support they gave Obama in 2012 against Republican Mitt Romney.

Instead, it’s about the same as the 54-45 margin they gave Democrat John Kerry in 2004 over Republican President George W. Bush. Kerry lost the general election.

Young voters are “up for grabs” in 2016, according to John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director.

Republican hopes ahead of 2016 will be further buoyed by a variety of other findings in this survey. 57 percent of young people favor sending American troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 35 percent support America’s role in resolving conflicts abroad; a 10-point increase from the same survey last year.

So, the longstanding near-monopoly the Democratic Party has had on the youth vote is crumbling, right? Slow down.

This poll also found that young people are relatively tuned out of the presidential race, as are most members of the general electorate this far out from Election Day. Just 21 percent of voters in this age group described themselves as “politically engaged.” In 2011, a plurality of young people polled in Harvard’s survey of millennial voters predicted that Barack Obama would lose his reelection bid. Those voters also were generally described as disengaged in the political process. But when they finally tuned in, they backed the Democratic candidate.

There’s every reason to believe that this familiar pattern will recur in 2016.

“Foreign policy and immigration rate as much more important issues for older voters than younger voters,” read a September, 2014, release from Pew Research Center. “Young voters are much more likely than older voters to consider the environment when casting their ballots: 64% of 18-29 year old voters say this will be very important to their vote, compared with only about half (51%) of voters 50 and older.”

That same poll found that voters age 18 – 29 join Democrats, college graduates, and African-Americans as the only subgroups in which a majority of respondents who approved of the Affordable Care Act.

On the issues, Democrats continue to enjoy the support of more young people than do Republicans. It’s a historical constant, a likely outgrowth of America’s progressive tax code, and a phenomenon isn’t going to disappear by this time next year. While polls like Harvard’s latest might provide news outlets like McClatchy with an opportunity to weave a provocative headline, but you shouldn’t believe the hype. At least, not yet.