the national interest

Teenage Republicans Still Not Happening Yet

Supporters listens as US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally at the George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, on October 19, 2012.
Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Are American teeangers turning Republican? The emergence of a new generation of Alex P. Keatons, turned off from big government by the disappointing economy of the Obama years, has become a point of contention in the debate over the “Emerging Democratic Majority” thesis, of which I am an enthusiastic advocate. E.M.D. advocates see an electorate that has hardened into relatively fixed blocs and is growing inexorably more liberal as more diverse voters enter the electorate. Skeptics (like Harry Enten and John Sides) see the electorate as far more fluid, and predict that the next cohort of young voters could lurch rightward just as easily as the last one lurched left.

A recent New York Times story lent some positive attention to the skeptics’ case. The basis for the Times piece was a dataset that showed that white voters had differing views depending on when they came of age. The most recent cadre of youngsters leaned more Democratic than their elders, but it was possible that the next cadre would lean right.

The flaw in the argument was that the dataset analyzed only white voters. The Times didn’t do this because it was racist. The Times made this choice because non-white voters lean heavily Democratic regardless of when they came of age. Only white voters vary generationally. The caveat was underplayed to the point that even the Times’ Twitter account today misses it:

Of course, “your” only applies if you are white. But the caveat is not a small one. Indeed, it fatally undermines the Teenage Republican hypothesis. The diversity of younger voters is the main thing that makes them more liberal. But the choice to focus on white voters only, which was defensible as a way to analyze the most pliable segment of the electorate, produced a skewed conclusion.

Today, David Leonhardt, who wrote the original Times story about the electoral data, follows up by examining Gallup survey of voters by year. He finds little or no discernible shift of the youngest voters toward the Republican Party:

Photo: Gallup

The data here is fragmentary. As Leonhardt notes, there may be a slight tilt away from the Democrats. But that still would count not so much as good news for Republicans as somewhat less terrible news. As every election cycle, older, Republican-leaning voters die off and are replaced by newer, Democratic-leaning ones. If the youngest and newest cohort is somewhat less Democratic leaning than the previous one, it would slow the process. But it’s like having your house flood at a slightly less rapid pace. The fabled new teenage conservatism remains as yet illusory.