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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: New Poll Finds That Young Americans Are Leaning Left

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.

This is one of the de rigueur stories that we seem to go through during campaign season: taking the pulse of the youth as though it is doing to tell us something about either a) the current race, or b) the future.

Well, despite the ongoing prediction that any given election is going to be the Year of Youth, we always find ourselves saying the week after the election that the youth vote simply didn’t materialize, or that it was about the same as the previous election. In regards to the future, while it is true that voting patterns tend to be set at a young age it is also true that, like investments, past performance is not indicative of future returns. In other words, it isn’t as if the view of those who are young now will necessarily lead us to a specific pre-determined political future.

In regards to the poll findings quoted above, none of it is surprising. In a generic sense, the idea of universal health care is quite appealing, but the devil is very much in the details. And that young people would be generically more liberal on the question of the free movement of people in regards to immigration is not all that surprising either. The gay marriage issue is especially unsurprising, given that social mores tend to become more liberal over time with each subsequent generation tending to be more tolerant than the previous one.

The actual numbers are as follows:

  • 44% of 17-29 year-olds favor gay marriage versus 28% of the public at large
  • 62% of 17-29 year-olds “would support a universal, government-sponsored national health care insurance program” v. 47% in the general population
  • “30 percent said that “Americans should always welcome new immigrants,” while 24 percent of the general public holds that view”

That last number, in particular, hardly strikes me as all that dramatic of a difference–indeed, it is MOE stuff. And the gay marriage number still shows that only a plurality of the young support same-sex marriage.

The only surprising element is that the young are more likely to think that Iraq is going to end successfully. Perhaps that is simply youthful optimism, or perhaps it is a proxy to indicate that they aren’t paying that much attention to what is going on, which calls into question whether they are informed enough for us to take any of the other responses all that seriously. Of course if we set sarcasm aside and look at the numbers, the difference between the young and the general population isn’t exactly radical:

Fifty-one percent said the United States was very or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq, compared with 45 percent among all adults.

Again, that is MOE stuff: the poll has a margin of error of +/-4%. As such the youth response could be 55% to 47% and the general pop response in the in the 49%-41% range. Not really a lead paragraph kind of number.
This, too, is unsurprising:

It found that substantially more Americans ages 17 to 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.

We in the midst of a war and there is no incumbent running–as such, the incentive to pay attention is rather high. For that matter, the campaign started even earlier this cycle than it did for the 2004 election. All of this means that as a country are paying more attention to the campaign than we did in the prior cycle. And Hillary is already a well-known name (she was, like, ya know, First Lady and all that) and Obama has been given the rock star treatment.

Indeed, the numbers seem to indicate that we are talking about name-recognition as much as anything:

Asked if they were enthusiastic about any of the candidates running for president, 18 percent named Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and 17 percent named Mrs. Clinton, of New York. Those two were followed by Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, who was named by just 4 percent of the respondents.

The poll also shows that the young are continuing to drift away from the GOP–but, of course, so is the population at the moment. The President’s 28% approval rating likely has something to do with that.

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Filed under: US Politics, 2008 Campaign | |


  1. Now if they changed the voting rules to allow voting via the Internet, the youth vote would probably explode.

    As to your comment about them being uninformed, you are undoubtedly correct. However, regardless of age, the uninformed populace is still allow to vote and many voters are only minimally informed.

    Comment by Jan — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  2. I was born after the US withdrew from Vietnam. In fact, I was born after North Vietnam overran South Vietnam. One of the reasons I’m optimistic on the Iraq and Afghan wars is that I have heard, basically all my life, that wars must be handled by the generals and not by the politicians.

    So long as the generals actually get their way, I’m optimistic. When Senators ask for a “bipartisan approach” to the war, I get very pessimistic.

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 9:46 am

  3. I think that another factor will be that the younger people are less likely to get their news from a traditional source, the evening news or reading a newspaper. And since they are exposed to far different reports regarding Iraq on the internet, I believe it had given them a different perspective.

    I would love to see poll numbers on that.

    Comment by Rob M — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 11:02 am

  4. If I recall the exit polling correctly, the youth turnout was indeed higher in 2004 than in recent elections and also significantly more Democratic than the public as a whole. And, from those current polling figures, 44 vs. 28 and 62 vs. 47 are certainly significant.

    In other words, I think PoliBlogger is underplaying the results.

    Regarding Jan on the possible impact of Internet voting on youth turnout, I would think not. Unless Internet voting would be significantly different in impact than other forms of non-polling-place voting (including the recent increase in mail voting), the main impact is likely to be just in getting people who would have voted anyway to vote by this new means. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that these gimmicks actually increase overall turnout, as opposed to just shift it around. Maybe the Internet and the youth are a voting match made in heaven, but I remain a skeptic.

    Of course, if youth turnout continues to increase (and lean Democratic) and Internet voting is instituted, the media no doubt will hail the latter as the cause of the former.

    Comment by MSS — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  5. What was Winston Churchill’s quote? Something like:

    “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”

    [There are other variations of this, and even discussions of whether it was original with WC.]

    Comment by Buckland — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  6. I know that the exit poll data from 2004 showed the youth vote to be roughly the same at 2000: check here.

    I do recall that the actual numbers did show the youth vote to be slightly up, but I want to say that it wasn’t an especially radical uptick.

    And from the NYT piece noted above:

    Over the last half century, the youth vote has more often than not gone with the Democratic candidate for president, though with some notable exceptions. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won his second term as president by capturing 59 percent of the youth vote, according to exit polls, and the first President George Bush won in 1988 with 52 percent of that vote. This age group, however, has supported Democratic presidential candidates in every election since.

    In other words, isn’t it basically “normal” for the youth vote to be more Democratic–with the 84 and 88 elections being the more aberrant ones?

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  7. OK, fair point on the facts. Glad someone actually looks stuff up.

    I do recall that in the 1980s it was said (by some right-leaning pundits) that the youth vote was trending GOP. Obviously, in retrospect, that was incorrect.

    Comment by MSS — Wednesday, June 27, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

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