Poll: Republican resurgence among young adults

A new poll shows 18- to 29-year-old Republicans are more politically energized than young Democrats and are more inclined to vote in this fall's elections. Young adults are also extremely concerned about the economy.

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    A young man wears a sticker in support of Republican presidential nominee John McCain during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in September 2008. Young adults have helped with a Republican resurgence in recent months.
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Republicans are enjoying new popularity among 18- to 29-year-olds, which may signal the first step in a Republican resurgence among young adults, a new poll suggests.

The poll finds young Republicans are more politically energized than young Democrats, and they’re more likely to say they will “definitely be voting” in this November’s midterm elections.

Forty-one percent of young Republicans say they plan to vote in November, compared with 35 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Independents, according to the poll conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP), a nonpartisan group.

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Fifty-three percent of those who voted for Sen. John McCain (R) of Ariz., in 2008 say they will definitely vote in midterm elections, compared with 44 percent of those who voted for President Obama.

“We’ve seen a reengagement of young adults in the political process in levels not seen in decades,” says Bill Purcell, director of the IOP.

Young Republicans politically engaged

That reengagement seems to be strongest among young Republicans, adds Michael McDonald, associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

“My impression is that there’s been a resurgence of young Republican self-identifiers,” says Dr. McDonald, who was not involved in the poll. “In the short-term, this points to a good election year for Republicans.”

That’s not surprising, he says.

As the GOP attempts to rebuild its image following President George W. Bush’s unpopular second term, young voters may be taking advantage of the opportunity to mount an ideological comeback to change the course of the Republican Party. (Monitor report: Young Republicans seek a new kind of party)

“This is actually part of a normal pattern we see in politics: the resurgence of the party out of power during midterm elections,” says McDonald. “When the governing party makes decisions that are unpopular, it tends to energize the opposition.”

The No. 1 issue energizing the opposition?

“Young people are extremely, extremely concerned about the current financial state,” says John Della Volpe, director of polling at IOP. “A lot of the intensity we see from conservative Republicans is around issues related to the economy. That’s something that has an effect on all members of this generation.” (Monitor report: The most fertile ground for Republicans is the growing ranks of independents.)

The poll found a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds experiencing significant anxiety about their personal finances, with 6 in 10 concerned about meeting current bills and 45 percent reporting their personal financial situation as "bad."

Worries about employment and healthcare

A majority of respondents said they worry about affording a place to live and affording healthcare. Almost half of those in college are concerned about their ability to stay in college, and almost half of those in the workforce are concerned about losing their jobs.

A considerable 84 percent of undergraduates polled said finding a job after graduation would be “difficult.”

“The concept that each generation will grow up to be better off than the previous is questionable,” says Purcell. “Polls show this generation unsure if they’ll be better off.”

Reflecting the unease of a generation entering the workforce during a major recession, less than half of “millennials” polled said they were confident they could reach the “American Dream.” Less than half of 18- to 29-year-olds (46 percent) expect to be better off financially than their parents when they reach their parents’ age today.

“The level of economic anxiety [among young people] is palpable,” says Mr. Della Volpe. “This will certainly impact the relationship they have with personal finances as they grow older.”

Young adults are also increasingly frustrated with government and with the economy, according to the poll.

Only 25 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they trust Congress to do the right thing all or most of the time. Only 29 percent trust federal government to do the right thing, and 44 percent trust the president. At 53 percent, the US military earns most young adults’ trust; Wall Street, at 11 percent, the least.

“At no time since our original survey in 2000 has the mood among America’s youngest cohort of voters seemed so dour,” the report concludes. “Millions of young people are losing faith in government, politics and in many cases – the American Dream.”

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