National Edition

How today's teenagers will change tomorrow's politics

Published: Monday, July 14 2014 8:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, July 14 2014 9:58 a.m. MDT

In this Oct. 3, 2012 file photo members of the Massachusetts GOP Young Republicans react as they watch the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in Boston. Republicans lost the popular vote for the fifth time in the last six presidential elections with the latest loss due in large measure to Obama’s advantage over Romney among younger and non-white voters. Young party leaders say Republicans aiming to reach beyond the party’s white, aging core need to do more than just retool campaign strategy and tactics. They also need GOP elected officials to offer concrete policies to counter Democratic initiatives.

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

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Disappointment in the national government may be leading the current generation of teenagers to reject traditional party politics, analysts say.

Members of the millennial generation, currently aged 18-33, consider themselves mostly independent but lean liberal, with 60 percent voting for Barack Obama in the last election, according to Pew Research Center. However, a New York Times columnist suggests that a conservative shift may be coming from the next generation of voters.

David Leonhardt, managing editor of the Times website covering politics and policy, wrote that teenagers now coming of age may be discouraged by the economic and social state of the country and see it as a reflection of a Democratic-led White House and Senate.

"To Americans in their 20s and early 30s — the so-called millennials — many of these problems have their roots in George W. Bush’s presidency. But think about people who were born in 1998, the youngest eligible voters in the next presidential election," he wrote. "They are too young to remember much about the Bush years or the excitement surrounding the first Obama presidential campaign. They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world’s problems."

A political projection model from the data firm Catalist and Columbia University that accompanied Leonhardt's article analyzed the political leanings of Americans based on their birth year. For instance, those who came into adulthood during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a popular Republican, remained conservative Republicans for the rest of their lives. Similarly, the negative perception of a Democratic president may drive young people away from Democratic candidates in the future.

Current approval ratings of President Obama are at an all-time low for millennials. According to a Harvard Institute of Politics survey, 41 percent of adults aged 18-29 approve of Obama's job performance, while 54 percent disapprove. The same demographic who enthusiastically elected the president are now discouraged with the state of the country.

As Leonhardt wrote, today's teenagers might blame the national and international unrest on the Democratic government and turn to Republican candidates as a result, but it's also very likely that they will turn against parties altogether. The Harvard survey found that 43 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds identified as Democrats in 2009, compared to 23 percent who considered themselves Republican. In 2013, the percentages were 31 and 25, respectively.

“It’s tough to be young these days — the economic concerns are very great, and a lot of what you hear out of Washington is not addressing those concerns. There are a lot of questions: Does either party really have my best interest at heart? And I think the answer to that is, ‘No,’” Kristen Soltis Anderson, who tracks young voters for a Republican data firm, told the New York Times.

In addition, Pew reports that only 31 percent of millennials see "a great deal of difference" between the two major parties, as opposed to 43 percent of Generation X-ers and 58 percent of the Silent generation.

Millennials have already responded by shifting more to the left or right, choosing candidates who are more progressive or more libertarian, says Travis Irvine, a writer for The Huffington Post.

"It's likely that liberals' disappointment with Obama is driving this progressive surge, in the same way conservatives upset with the wars and deficits of the Bush/Cheney years drove the libertarian surge on the right," he wrote.

Irvine points out progressive and libertarian politicians have already compromised on several issues important to millennials, with successful results, indicating that the trend of young people turning against the typical party platforms will continue.

Email: ehales@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @hrh_emilina

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