MSNBC notes that George W. Bush has made unprecedented gains among young voters in the 18-29 range.
Candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, most notably Howard Dean, have talked up their appeal to younger Americans as a potential strength, claiming that by reaching out to young voters they can tip the electoral scales in their favor. But among the poll’s most surprising findings are data that suggest 18-29 year-olds may not be the Democratic boon Dean and others have hoped for. A majority of young voters (54 percent) say they approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president, virtually identical to the president’s approval rating among registered voters overall.
Fifty-four percent of young voters say they approve of the president’s handling of economic issues (with 44 percent saying they disapprove) and 57 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy (42 percent disapprove). The approval ratings don’t necessarily translate into vote for Bush, however: 37 percent said they would definitely vote to reelect the president while 34% they would definitely vote to elect someone else.
What’s more interesting is that 60% approved of the war in Iraq, which seems high until you realize that this age range is the 9/11 generation. The events of September 11 have created a lasting political realignment in this country. While the anti-war protests of Vietnam were primarily driven by students, the anti-war protests I’ve seen had the demographics of a Geritol ad. It was a few college lefties mixed in with relics of the Vietnam age – the old protest class out for one last hoorah. The protest class was a minority, and most people regarded the terrorist attacks as a sign that national security was suddenly more than a buzzword, it was a necessity.
That’s why I see the Democrats as barking up the wrong tree. The country may have a 47-47 split in partisan identification, but when it comes time to the crucial question "which party do I trust on national security?" the GOP wins hands down. With the Democrats firmly opposed to the war in Iraq, they’re pursuing that 37% or so that agree rather than the 60% of the electorate who think ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was a good thing to have done.
I know several Democrats who don’t like Bush personally, and don’t like many of his policy positions, but will hold their nose and vote for him in November because he’s the only one they trust to protect this country. The Democrats can ignore and belittle these voters all they want, but as this data on the youth vote shows, they’re a political force to be reckoned with.