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Saturday, December 10, 2016

In a Tuesday article for The New York Times’ Upshot blog, David Leonhardt suggests that the next generation could grow up conservative — even though today’s young voters are overwhelmingly liberal and diverse, and the GOP is the party of older white voters.

Leonhardt argues that ideology is generational. The hippies of the 1960s who fought against Vietnam and supported gender and racial equality were replaced by the generation that voted for Reagan and social conservatism.

He writes that the current crop of young voters grew up with the Iraq War and George W. Bush’s failed policies. They’re the generation of “hope and change.” But the next generation is growing up under a struggling Obama administration. President Obama appears powerless in a government where little is accomplished, and this group doesn’t really remember the Bush administration.

If the GOP were still the moderate party it was during the 1970s, then Leonhardt’s argument could make a lot of sense. Political attitudes shift, which is why control of the nation frequently switches between the Democratic and Republican parties. In the 1970s, President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, which many of today’s Republicans would like to see abolished, and pushed for a very progressive welfare plan.

But today’s GOP has moved so far to the right that it’s hard to imagine young people supporting a party that really doesn’t represent them. For example, the modern Republican Party denies global warming and attacks welfare programs.

Of voters aged 18-39, 72 percent think that global warming is a serious problem facing the country, while only 49 percent of Republicans do, according to a June ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Similarly, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 45 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds think that the poor aren’t doing enough, compared to 61 percent of Republicans.

Leonhardt admits to a few holes in his argument. For one, Obama’s administration is largely struggling because the Republican Party does whatever it can to block all his initiatives.

He also acknowledges that the GOP has a large diversity problem. The latest Census Bureau data shows that the country is becoming more and more diverse. Non-Hispanic single whites under the age of 18 only make up 52.4 percent of the population, and that will continue to decline. Leonhardt points out that 45 percent of American teens are either Hispanic or a minority, compared to 29 percent of citizens older than 20.

In the 2012 election, although young voters favored him less than they did in 2008, they were still President Obama’s largest base of support (60 percent voted for him). While whites were the only race of which a majority voted for Romney, Obama won 93 percent of the black vote, 73 percent of Asians, and 71 percent of Hispanics. The Republican Party has a problem with minority voters, and it’s not going to go away unless the GOP reforms its platform and becomes more inclusive.

Leonhardt is correct that today’s teens will remember the Obama administration when they cast their first votes. His legacy isn’t looking so great at the moment — a poll did just name him the worst president since World War II. But what Leonhardt fails to mention is that some young voters might be disillusioned with Obama because he’s not progressive enough. These voters are certainly not going to run to the Republican Party, a party that definitely won’t close the prison at Guantánamo or reform Wall Street.

No one in the 1960s would have predicted that the next generation would become Reagan Democrats, so it’s true that anything can happen over the next few years. But it’s very unlikely that the next generation will take a sharp right turn.

Photo: Chill Mimi via Flickr

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