Young Voters: The Least Republican Generation

Posted January 23, 2007 at 5:15pm

The Pew Research Center recently released a substantial poll on the attitudes of “Gen Next,” Americans who are 18 to 25 years of age. In a September-October survey, 48 percent of young people identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning to the Democratic Party, and 35 percent as Republicans. This is the lowest number of Republicans among this age group in almost two decades. Pew concludes that Gen Next is the “least Republican generation.” [IMGCAP(1)]

Pew points out that young people haven’t always been so enamored with the Democrats. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 18-to-25-year-olds were more Republican than older age groups.

In the poll, Gen Nexters were more liberal (26 percent) than older age groups. Still, slightly more young people called themselves conservatives than liberals (29 percent to 26 percent). A plurality (36 percent) called themselves moderates.

Big Government, Biggest Threat. At the time of the Enron scandal, 47 percent described big government as the biggest threat to the country’s future, 38 percent said big business and 10 percent said big labor.

Big government is the No. 1 villain today, but by a much larger margin. In a mid-December Gallup Poll, 61 percent thought it was the biggest threat. Twenty-five percent picked big business, and 9 percent selected big labor. Fifty-six percent of Democrats selected big government, compared to 34 percent who said big business and 6 percent who chose big labor. For Republicans, those numbers were 63 percent, 19 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Self-identified liberals were more evenly split about the relative dangers — 49 percent said big government was the biggest threat and 43 percent said it was big business.

Economic Uptick. Both the mid-January Opinion Research Corporation/CNN poll and the Gallup/USA Today poll showed improvement in Bush’s marks on handling the economy, although negative opinions outweighed positive ones. In the Opinion Research Corporation/CNN poll, 43 percent approved and 53 percent disapproved, with the approval response up about 10 points from mid-2006. In the poll, 57 percent said things were going very well or fairly well in the country today. Responses to that question have varied greatly, reaching a high of 81 percent in January 2000 and a low of 21 percent in May 1980.

The Gallup/USA Today poll showed 45 percent approving of how Bush is handling the economy, and 51 percent disapproved. Around four in 10 approved during most of 2006.

Sixty-eight percent in a January Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll said the nation’s economy was doing well these days. Seventy-one percent described their own finances as secure, and 28 percent as shaky.

Clear Plan for Iraq? Twenty-nine percent told Gallup/USA Today interviewers in a mid-January interview that President Bush had a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq (69 percent said he did not). As for the Democrats in Congress, 21 percent thought they had a clear plan (75 percent said they did not). Pew’s Jan. 11-15 poll showed similar responses. Twenty-two percent thought the president had a clear plan, 20 percent thought Democratic leaders in Congress did.

The January Opinion Research Corporation/CNN poll found, as other polls have, that people still had more confidence in the Democrats in Congress to handle the situation there than the Republicans (51 percent to 34 percent).

Americans in the poll were split about whether the president should get authorization from Congress to send additional troops (46 percent) or whether he already has the authority (50 percent).

Clear Plan for the Country? In a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, only 32 percent said the country is better off and should proceed in the direction President Bush has set, while 64 percent thought the country was not better off and needed to move in a new direction.

When asked if the Democrats in Congress have formulated a clear direction for the country, 25 percent said they had. Thirty percent of liberals gave that response as did 42 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents.

Ethics Package. Twenty-seven percent in the Los Angeles Times poll said that the House ethics package would make a real difference in how business is conducted in Washington, D.C., while 60 percent thought there would be business as usual. The public still supported the broad outlines of the package, by 72 percent to 15 percent.

In the Jan. 16-19 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 84 percent favored establishing a permanent independent commission to investigate and enforce ethics rules for Members and their staffs.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.