A new generation drawn to politics by Obama could just as easily become alienated.
By Jerome Karabel
April 15, 2008
As go the young, so go the futures of political parties.
In the fierce and seemingly endless battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the enthusiastic involvement of an unprecedented number of young people -- roughly 14% of Democratic primary voters, up from 9% in 2004 -- presents the Democrats with an extraordinary opportunity to reshape U.S. politics in the coming years. It is theirs to seize or to squander.
Studies over the last half a century have repeatedly shown that voter preferences among most people in their teens and 20s have not yet crystallized -- a pattern referred to by social scientists as the "impressionable years" hypothesis. Yet, in response to the key historical events a generation encounters in late adolescence and early adulthood, young people begin to develop more stable political beliefs and party preferences. More often than not, those party allegiances -- even the habit of voting -- will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Historically, political realignments have begun with the young. In the face of the Depression, people in their 20s rejected Herbert Hoover and flocked to Franklin Roosevelt. Most of them went on to develop enduring identities as Democrats. That generation's staunch loyalty was integral to the Democratic Party's political dominance through the mid-1960s. As late as 2006, the voters who came of age in the 1930s remained solidly Democratic, outnumbering Republicans 57% to 38%.