The political identity of young Americans is being shaped in an increasingly turbulent time when political winds have shifted from left to right in a matter of months. While political outlook and party affiliation of older Americans (those ages and older) hasn’t changed much in the past two years, Simmons DataStream shows that young adults have demonstrated noticeable shifts in both outlook and party affiliation that may have long-lasting effects.
Specifically, Simmons DataStream shows that young adults ages 18 to 24 were already registering with the Democratic Party at increasing rates in the run-up to the 2008 national election that put Obama in the White House and solid Democratic majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate. After the election, young adults rode the electoral victory wave by claiming, in even greater numbers, to be registered Democrats. Fully 37% of all young adults reported being registered Democrats on February 23, 2009. However, after only three months of Democratic control in D.C. and increasing bipartisanship and political rhetoric, Democrats began to lose younger voters in terms of party affiliation. Since May 2009, in fact, young voters have blown hot and cold with the Democratic Party, depending on the direction of the political winds. Interestingly, this on-again-off again affair with Democrats hasn’t sent young voters into the arms of Republicans. In fact, the percent of young voters registering as Republicans is half today (11%) what it was when Obama took office (22%).
While neither of the political parties has demonstrated a firm hold over this group of voters, one thing is certain: young voters are increasingly identifying as “middle-of-the-road” when asked about their political ideology and less as “liberal.” Since November of 2009, young adults have also been increasingly identifying as “conservative” when it comes to their political ideology. As of August 9, 2010, 32% of adults ages 18 to 24 identified as “conservative” compared with 39% who identified as “middle-of-the-road” and only 17% who identified as “liberal.”