In both the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections, the GOP nominee did about as well with younger voters, those age 18-29, as he did with all voters.
According to New York Times/CBS News exit polling, Ronald Reagan drew 59 percent of the vote in his 1984 mauling of Democrat Walter Mondale and 59 percent of 18-29 year olds. Four years later, Republican George H.W. Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis with 53 percent nationally and 52 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds.
In 2000, voters 18-29 again didn’t look much different than the overall electorate. Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush each won 48 percent of the electorate and about 47 percent of the 18-29 age group.
Last year, of course, the president beat Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among voters 18-29 years of age, a much better showing than Obama’s 4-point win in the final popular vote (though not as good as his 66 percent showing among younger voters in 2008).
Romney, on the other hand, easily beat Obama among voters 45 and older, many of whom came of age politically during the Reagan years or whose views were formed by the Gipper’s brand of conservatism.
Romney did carry white voters in the 18-29 age group last year, but by only 51 percent to 44 percent. In contrast, he won whites 65 years and older by 61 percent to 39 percent and whites 45-64 by 61 percent to 38 percent.
Democrats start with an advantage with an age cohort that will participate in elections for the next 50 years and will be replacing older voters in the electorate — the most Romney age cohort in 2012 — over the next two decades.
Yes, the current crop of younger voters will likely grow more conservative over the years, and possibly more Republican, and it is certainly possible that Obama’s appeal to younger voters was unique. But Republican strategists have to consider the possibility that younger voters have different values and views than their parents have now and had when they were 20 or 25 years old.
Merely assuming that 2008 and 2012 Obama voters who were between the ages of 18 and 29 will fade away into political oblivion is not a recipe for a Republican political comeback.
Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).