Can Barack Obama Hang On to His Youth Coalition?

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"In four years, a woman is going to come here and ask you to vote for her. She's going to be very pretty and she's going to remind you of your nice school librarian. But she is evil, and you mustn't listen to her." Photo: Getty Images

Despite young people's abysmal, 40-year tradition of being too hung-over to locate a polling booth, the under-30 crowd actually turned out this year, supporting Obama on a two-to-one margin. Now, the question remains of whether Obama will be able to hold on to his youth coalition.

A handful of pollsters and political scientists think he has a good shot.

For one thing, party loyalty can be powerful. There's a reason all those young people who voted for Reagan in 1984 have remained one of the most reliably Republican-voting groups to this day, said Andrew Gelman, a professor of political science at Columbia University and the author of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State. "People's political affiliations are determined by the political climate in which they came of age," he said. So if young people in the eighties became Republicans because of their hatred of Jimmy Carter, same goes this time around. "We're seeing a whole group of George W. Bush Democrats," Gelman said.

For another thing, this particular generation of young people are aligned with Obama on social issues. As a group, the "Millennial Generation" — those who will make up the under-30 crowd in the next several elections — are reliably more liberal on issues like gay marriage and stem-cell research than any other generation — and that's not likely to change, said Michael D. Hais and Morley Winograd, authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics. They predict that young people will continue to vote Democratic, catalyzing a "political realignment" in this country that will play out in the next thirty years.

So that's good news for Obama. But he shouldn't count his chickens quite yet, said Charles Franklin, the co-developer of Pollster.com and a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.

"Young voters tend to be blown by the short-term political winds," he said. "An older geezer like me can look back over a dozen elections and make a decision, but young people have to look at what's going on at the time."