Democrats Losing Young Voters

President Obama was a rock star on college campuses during the 2008 campaign, but that popularity has not necessarily turned into loyalty to the Democratic Party.

One of the most notable phenomenon to come out of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for President was the extent to which he captured the attention, passion, and votes of young voters, a demographic that has been known since the passage of the 26th Amendment mostly for being politically disengaged. Many thought it signaled the beginning of a new era that Democrats stood to benefit from, but now it appears that these same young voters have become disillusioned by the party they once flocked to:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The college vote is up for grabs this year — to an extent that would have seemed unlikely two years ago, when a generation of young people seemed to swoon over Barack Obama.

Though many students are liberals on social issues, the economic reality of a weak job market has taken a toll on their loyalties: far fewer 18- to 29-year-olds now identify themselves as Democrats compared with 2008.

“Is the recession, which is hitting young people very hard, doing lasting or permanent damage to what looked like a good Democratic advantage with this age group?” asked Scott Keeter, the director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group. “The jury is still out.”

How and whether millions of college students vote will help determine if Republicans win enough seats to retake the House or Senate, overturning the balance of power on Capitol Hill, and with it, Mr. Obama’s agenda. If students tune out and stay home it will also carry a profound message for American society about a generation that seemed so ready, so recently, to grab national politics by the lapels and shake.

All those questions are in play here in Larimer County, about an hour north of Denver, for the more than 25,000 students at Colorado State University.

Larimer, like much of Colorado, was once solidly Republican but went Democratic in the last few elections and is now contested by both sides. It is seen as a signal beacon for an increasingly unpredictable state.

Kristin Johnson, 23, like many other students interviewed here in recent days, said that a vote for Democrats in 2008, however passionate it was, did not a Democrat make. But she bristles just as much at the idea of being called a Republican.

“It’s like picking a team when you really don’t want to root for either team,” said Ms. Johnson, a communication studies major, who said she was undecided about parties and politics going into the general election campaign.

So it’s not so much that younger voters like Johnson are becoming Republican, but they are mirroring much of America in the fact that they don’t really trust either party that much.

Now, you admittedly cannot draw conclusions about younger voters as a whole based upon a few interviews with a few students at a college in Colorado. However, it’s worth noting that we haven’t really seen any evidence since November 2008 that the young voters that President Obama excited during his two years on the campaign trail are any more politically engaged or active for other Democrats than they were in the past. Obama-mania is looking to be a far less significant phenomenon than many believed it to be.

H/T: Frum Forum

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Every generation has to go through a process of discovering there’s a reason no one else is pushing the simple solutions to every problem that seem so obvious to them.

  2. wr says:

    Yeah, it’s really scary — unless you happen to read all the way down past paragraph twenty. Where you learn that Democratic self-identification has plummeted from 62% all the way down to 57%. This feels like a journalist who’s come up with an idea for a story and is damned if facts are going to get in his way.

  3. Tano says:

    This feels like a journalist who’s come up with an idea for a story and is damned if facts are going to get in his way.

    It is infinitely easier to pitch your article or post to the conventional wisdom, than to present a set of facts which contradicts that wisdom, or even worse, simply muddies the waters. It is remarkable the extent to which readers seem to crave a clarity of message, whether or not the facts warrant simple explanations.
    Thats the way it always seems to work. It has been almost a year now in which every bit of polling data is shoehorned into a “doom for Democrats” narrative, or an “Obama support imploding” narrative. The truth is far less dramatic than that, but who amongst us does not crave a little drama with our morning coffee?

  4. ponce says:

    The data this story is based on is a year old.

  5. Juneau: says:

    Yep, Democrats have absolutely nothing to worry about – the loss of the Independent votes , the loss young voter’s enthusiasm and trust, the loss of confidence that Democrats are looking out for the working class – its all just hype.  Nothing to it at all…

  6. Gerry W. says:

    And the cycle goes on. People have short term memories. Just a couple years ago, we had the worst president in our life times. Of course, Sarah or Glenn can do better. LOL

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I can see November from my front porch.  Looks like someone in a plane wrote in the sky “GOP takes congress”.  Guess the Senator from Oregon is beginning to regret his vote for Obama care.  Could we have GOP senators for the 3 western states plus Nevada?

  8. Jay Dubbs says:

    I think that some younger voters may drift away from Democrats during hard economic times, but the most likely rersponse is that they just stay home, rather than become Republicans.  (The Beck rally didn’t exactly look like a college mixer.) 

    But when economic times stabilize, they will drift back to the Democrats, especially if the Republicans run a real social conservative campaign.  The more telling question is probably which party to you dislike more.  My sense is that (especially now) yopunger voters don’t like Democrats, but really, really don’t like Republicans.  As I said above, easier to just stay home.

  9. Ben says:

    As Jay Dubbs said, they aren’t going to vote Republican.  If they’re sufficiently upset with the Dems, they’ll stay home and play Xbox.  The younger generation will never form any sort of coalition with social conservatives.  That worldview will die with the Boomers.

  10. JKB says:

    The younger generation will never form any sort of coalition with social conservatives.  That worldview will die with the Boomers.

    Way back around 1992, a Gen Xer worked for me.  On day, he commented that the Baby Boomers grew up to make everything they did illegal for their kids.  Which is true.  Today’s kids will start taking on responsibility and start having kids and voila, a social conservative is born.

    But really what has happened in a good lesson for the young and dumb.  They’ve learned not to judge a presidential candidate by the color of his skin but rather by the content of his character.  For all the progressive education, no lesson sinks in like those from the school of hard knocks.

  11. Ben says:

    I’m not so sure about that.  I’m right on the edge of Gen X, which means I am not a young guy any more.  And I have been getting LESS socially conservative as the years go by, not more.  And most of my similar-aged acquaintances feel the same way.

  12. tom p says:

    For all the progressive education, no lesson sinks in like those from the school of hard knocks.

    Yeah JKB, I went to the same school, and I learned my lessons well: Everytime a Republican gets in Office I am screwed. At least the Dems use a little bit of lube.

  13. Jay Dubbs says:

    More individual responsibilty, yes, that is something that the new generation seems to focus on.  More social conservatism (i.e. against gay right, the right to abortion (but not being “pro-abortion”, women’s equality, pro-Christian/anti-anything else etc.), no that ship has sailed and if the GOP hitches itself to those theories, it will lose long term.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    “Could we have GOP senators for the 3 western states plus Nevada?”

    You must be tripping acid on that front porch…