Monday, June 02, 2014

Are Youth Slipping Away from Democrats?

We just discussed the strength of the Democratic coalition under Obama--a liberal national elite and government workers at the top, government needy minorities, unmarried women, and youth at the bottom. Except that youth may be having second thoughts about backing Obama.

Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will, who does these statistical summaries well, wraps together several reasons why young people may be disenchanted with Washington’s current Democrats. Will writes:
The more than $1.1 trillion of student loan debt is restraining consumption. . . More than 40% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or in jobs that do not require a college degree. This is understandable, given that 44% of the job growth since the recession ended has been in food services, retail clerking or other low-wage jobs. . . The Pew Research Center reports that Americans 25 to 32 — “millennials” — constitute the first age cohort since World War II with higher unemployment or a greater portion living in poverty than their parents at [the same] age.

But if because of these facts, you expect youth to abandon Democrats, just remember Gallup estimates that 45% of Americans 18-29 are nonwhite. And for them and for the 55% white majority, there are the social issues.

In the decade-old What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, author Thomas Frank documented how social issues caused the working class to vote against their pocketbooks. A similar, polar opposite phenomenon has taken hold among American youth, as the liberal Washington Post’s Chris Cillizzia has noted:
When millennial independents are asked which party they lean toward, 50% say they identify as Democratic or lean toward the Democratic Party. Just 34% identify as Republican or lean that way. . . “Millennials stand out for voting heavily Democratic and for liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization,” according to a Pew overview of the data.
Nearly seven in 10 millennials (68%) support same-sex marriage, a marked increase even from a decade ago, when 44% backed it. 55% of millennials say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States and have a chance to apply for citizenship. 56% of millennials say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. . . And, on the right role for government to play in people’s lives, a majority of millennials (53%) favor a bigger government that provides more services, while 38% find a smaller government with fewer services more appealing.
In the immortal Winston Churchill’s words, “Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.”

And of course, when it comes to Republicans winning over youth, there is the “coolness” factor.

Vietnam plus the triple revolution of sex, civil rights, and equal rights for women peaked in the seminal year of 1968, the year of the Vietcong’s confidence-shattering Tet offensive, youth revolution in Europe, Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election, the assassination of Martin Luther King and subsequent urban riots, the Prague (Czechoslovakia) Spring crushed by Soviet troops in August, Robert Kennedy’s winning the California primary only to be assassinated, and an anti-youth backlash that carried Richard Nixon to the White House in November.

One major event that year most clearly focused American youth against everything going wrong in their country: the “police riot” against young people battling the old white guys running the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. These youth were the first generation raised by television, the “cool” medium, in television sage Marshall McLuhan’s own words.

Haskell Wexler’s 1968 docudrama Medium Cool, with actual footage from the Chicago riots, nailed down this seminal event of a seminal year--cool youth, raised on television, first losing, eventually, inevitably winning the political war against their “hot,” radio-reared elders. Youth in 1968, the dominant baby boomer generation in the vanguard, pushing sex, civil rights, and equal rights for women, forcing an end to war in Vietnam, changing American culture forever, cementing the connection between youth and “coolness.”

And still today, 46 years on, putting conservatives in a bad place with young people. How bad? Conservative baby boomer Greg Gutfeld, 49, tries so hard on Fox News to be the right wing’s version of the popular, cool Jon Stewart, 51, Comedy Central's master of fake news. Gutfeld is forced to face reality and in his latest book, defend being Not Cool:
Pick a political, cultural or moral universe, and in each one it's the cool who seek to punish, mock or thwart the uncool. They do this freely and without much resistance, for exacting cool revenge is so common that the uncool let it happen without a fight -- a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome.
To return to the top of this piece, youth truly suffer in 2014 America. Youth traditionally rebel against the established order. So it soon may be cool to be uncool.

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