Rick Perlstein: Why Democrats Have a Problem with Young Voters
Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. He writes a weekly column for RollingStone.com.
I have a young friend I'll call Cecil. Cecil graduated from a prestigious liberal arts college on the East Coast in 2006 with a degree in political science. A lot of his friends were involved in political campaigns, and so, looking for work, he thought he'd try it, too: "You want to be involved in something that's trying to make the world a better place. Something that's mission-driven," he says. So he got a job as a field organizer for the senate campaign of John Tester, the populist Democrat. That election won, burned out, he drove to California and got a job waiting tables.
Then came Barack Obama, and Cecil fell in love. "The war thing was big," he remembers. "I had a friend who went to Iraq and died. Obama’s whole opposition to the war was very important to me." He packed up his car and drove all the way across the country to become an Obama organizer in New Hampshire, then Maine, then Vermont. Because he was good at it, he was named deputy field director in Oregon, then one of two deputies in a crucial Midwestern state. After the election, in Washington, he was one of the principles in setting up a major new national progressive activist group....
You could call Cecil a progressive. Just don't call him a Democrat. As intense as his alienation from the Republican Party is his disinclination to state any party identity at all. He says, "I feel more attached to a politics of hope and optimism than I do to the Democratic Party"
He's not alone. It's more and more the case that young people who identify with Democrats on the issues shy from labeling themselves Democrats. In 2008, members of the "Millennial" generation — demographers' term for kids born between 1981 and 1993 — identified as Democrats rather than Republicans by 60 to 32 percent. Now, those figures are 47 and 43 percent.
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