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2/22/2010
CONSERVATIVE REALITY CHECK: WE STILL AREN’T VERY POPULAR AND ARE LOSING THE NEXT GENERATION

After having just seen the euphoria and confident words coming out of CPAC about how conservatism isn’t dead - it’s back and better than ever - I feel some trepidation in trying to rain a bit on that parade.

I really don’t like being a Cassandra. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to report on a popular, dynamic, vibrant conservatism that is in the ascendancy and ready to reinvigorate government. But blinding oneself to the facts, misinterpreting straws in the wind, and basing a conservative comeback more on wishful thinking than on the evidence before our eyes only makes the task of asking you to face our shortcomings, own up to them, and change course all the more difficult and depressing.

For those of you who refuse to believe that all polls are rigged against the right, and all pollsters have it in for conservatives, you may find the following interesting. The rest of you can move on to more agreeable sites who would rather blindly engage in cheerleading, while ignoring the fact that conservatism is still seen as a marginal philosophy among the young, and that the right’s comeback is the result almost entirely of a huge jump in support among those aged 65-82.

First, the numbers (via Larison), that show some movement toward the right among “millenials” (18-29) but still show a huge gap in party ID:

However, over the course of 2009 the Democratic Party’s advantage among Millennials in party affiliation weakened considerably from its high point in 2008. The most recent party affiliation data (from the fourth quarter of 2009) show that in terms of straight partisan identification, Democrats held a 36% to 24% lead over the GOP among Millennial voters, a significantly narrower edge than the nearly two-to-one margin (41% vs. 22%) in 2008. At the same time, the percentage of Millennials who said they lean Republican has nearly doubled, from 8% in 2008 to 15% at the end of 2009. There was little change in the percentage who leaned Democratic (20% in 2008 vs. 18% in late 2009). While the Democratic Party has a larger advantage among Millennials than it does among the two oldest cohorts, a greater proportion of the party’s support comes from people who do not explicitly identify as Democrats but only lean toward the party.

Despite the shift in partisan leaning among Millennials, the Republican Party has had limited success in increasing the number of Millennials who identify as — and not just lean –Republican. Just 22% of Millennial voters identified as Republican in 2008, and there was no significant rise in the latest polling (24% in the 4th quarter of 2009).

In other words, no sale. Gains were also made by the right among the Gen X, Boomers, and the “Silent Generation” (65-82) with the last of those showing a complete flip in support away from Obama and the Democrats. However, all but the “Silents” still show majority support for the Democrats.

On average, Millennials’ underlying social and political views put them well to the left of their elders. If you dig into the full report, you will see that the recent Republican resurgence owes almost everything to the dramatic shift among members of the so-called “Silent Generation,” whose voting preferences on the generic ballot have gone from being 49-41 Democrat in 2006 to 48-39 Republican for 2010. There have been small shifts in other age groups toward the Republicans, but by far it is the alienation of voters aged 65-82 that has been most damaging to the Democrats’ political strength*. As we all know, these are the voters who are far more likely to turn out than Millennials, which is why Democratic prospects for this election seem as bad as they do even though the Pew survey says that Democrats lead on the generic ballot in every other age group. Among Boomers, Democrats lead 46-42, and among Gen Xers they barely lead 45-44. In other words, the main reason why the GOP is enjoying any sort of political recovery is that many elderly voters have changed their partisan preferences since the last midterm. Republicans remain behind among all voters younger than 65.

What does it mean for Republicans and the right that they now find themselves in the position of defending Medicare against fiscally responsible moves to rein in its costs? Catering to the elderly voting bloc means maintaining the complete integrity of their entitlements.

Even a cursory examination of the huge hole that Medicare is digging for future generations will tell you that addressing the problem is going to entail much more draconian cuts than the measly $500 billion contemplated by the Obama administration in their health insurance reform package. When we’re talking about an eventual shortfall of tens of trillions of dollars, such gestures are hardly worth the political blood spilled to get them enacted.

But the GOP now finds themselves the Defenders of Medicare - an irony too sour for many of us who believe that entitlements need to be drastically overhauled in order to save us from ruinous decline. But since old people vote, it isn’t likely that the Republicans will give up their current advantage in that age group willingly.

It is the young that should concern us, however, Unless something unexpected occurs, the Millenials will be lost to conservatism largely due to what is perceived to be a much less tolerant and less expansive view of social issues:

The percentage of self-identifying conservatives among Millennials is basically equal with that of self-identifying liberals (28% vs. 29%). The youngest generation of voters is unusually ill-disposed towards movement conservatism of the sort on display at CPAC, which is the event Gardiner hails not only as proof that conservatism is the future but as an “intellectually vibrant” gathering.

Gardiner can believe what he wants, but the evidence we have available right now suggests that conservatism is losing, indeed has already lost, most of the next generation, and that conservatism as we know it today is going to keep losing ground in the future. It is possible that something could happen in the next few years that could change that significantly, but typically once a cohort attaches itself to one party or the other its later voting habits become fairly predictable. The generation that came of age during the Bush years and overwhelmingly backed Obama is not going to become receptive to movement conservatism.

Larison’s analysis fails in one respect; the idea that the Millenials will always vote Democratic because they have attached themselves to the Democratic party and their voting habits become “predictable.” The survey Larison references, in fact, shows a growing comfort with conservatism the older one gets.

The Democrats feel they have a chance to cement the loyalty of Millenials to their party by passing national health insurance. Perhaps the “right bill” might have done so, but the monstrosity that has come forth will almost certainly drive them away from the party or, at least, make them so cynical that they drop out of the voting process altogether. The entire burden in the current health insurance plan falls on the youngest wage earners. Once they get wise to that, I suspect they won’t like it much at all and will be looking for someone to blame.

Larison’s point, then, has some deficiencies but its thrust is correct; the current state of Millenial attraction to movement conservatism is very weak and may get weaker over time. Obviously, the conservatives will never abandon their anti-gay marriage stance (and the perception that this makes them bigots plays a significant role in the standoffishness of Millenials), nor is the right likely to move away from the pro-life position - a stance that drives away Millenial women in droves. (While the numbers may be near equal, better educated and wealthier Millenial women are more pro choice.)

Perhaps social upheaval caused by a significant economic downturn would shunt social issues like gay marriage and abortion to the sidelines enough that a conservative economic populist message would resonate more with the Millenials. Then there’s always the chance that they might go the opposite way and embrace more liberal solutions. Given the fact that neither side will change their base conclusions about social issues, something along those lines would appear to be the only real chance to cause the Millenials to give conservatism another look.

As for the other age groups, it was encouraging that in the NJ and VA governor races last year, and the MA senate race this year, it appeared that the right was making a small comeback in suburbia. But it should be noted that the GOP candidates in all three of those races downplayed their social conservatism and talked up economic populism.

The recently completed CPAC conference also lends credence to this idea that the dominance of social issues on the GOP agenda may be on the wane with only 1% of attendees believing that opposition to gay marriage should be the number one issue of the GOP. No word on how many think it should be #2, or #3 which makes me think that the perception that the GOP is anti-gay might not be changing any time soon.

In 2010, where only half the number of people will vote who cast a ballot in 2008, the general level of enthusiasm on the right along with the turnout among the old folks will mean sizable, perhaps spectacular Republican gains.

But what of 2012? Conservatives still have a huge problem with the highly educated, the wealthy, and still trail the Democrats in support by the Middle Class. In a general election with elevated turnout, the Millenials may once again give the Democrats victory despite all that has happened.

Perhaps instead of crowing about a comeback, conservatives should keep their focus on developing alternatives to what the Democrats are doing in order to offer a positive program that would win over those independents who will decide the next two elections.

By: Rick Moran at 10:16 am
12 Responses to “CONSERVATIVE REALITY CHECK: WE STILL AREN’T VERY POPULAR AND ARE LOSING THE NEXT GENERATION”
  1. 1
    michael reynolds Said:
    11:57 am 

    After what the Boomers and the Greatest Generation — liberals and conservatives alike — have done to the Millenials I’d be surprised if they were much interested in any sort of political guidance from us or membership in our parties. Frankly it’s a miracle they don’t hunt us down in the streets.

  2. 2
    mannning Said:
    1:24 pm 

    There is really only one way that conservatives can vote and that is with the GOP if they want to unseat Obama and company. That is also true for Independents that are not happy at all with what has happened this year under the Democrats.

    It is possibly the case that the GOP will pick up many votes primarily as a protest against Obama, et cie, almost without respect to its platform, so long as it is sufficiently conservative or non-liberal, and not Democratic-lite.

    The GOP itself seems to me to be realistically pushing the SSM issue under the rug where it should be, which will reduce this conflict for some voters. They may well reduce the rhetoric on abortion also, which is another of the controversies with heavy religious implications, and it appears to be one of the main blocks for the young against the GOP. The moral basis for this can be challenged, of course.

    We do have a lot of Cassandras around.

  3. 3
    CZ Said:
    2:55 pm 

    Since republicans and conservatives historically have never attracted the majority of young voters (at least in my 57 yr. lifetime) I think your point is moot. Future elections will now be won by awakened motivated voters concerned about losing our liberty, not by catering to the social flavor of the day.

    Until the last election young voters weren’t too interested in politics since the late 60’s when they were facing conscription during a time of war.

    The last national election motivated young voters based on Obungle’s media manufactured “hipness” factor, his flashy graphic campaign and his shallow promise of hope and change. Since their hope and change bubble has burst most will likely stay away from the ballot box in disgust. They will instead immerse themselves in social networking on their $400 iPhones wearing $300 designer jeans, drinking $15 cosmopolatini’s and eating $20 arugula salads at their local trendy urban nightspots. IF they are still employed.

    My two very leftist and very outspoken early twenty-something nieces recently confided in me at Christmas how wrong they were to believe in and vote for Swami Obungle. They explained how both now feel betrayed by his insincerity and ineptitude along with his lack of leadership and guts. They are smart enough to comprehend precisely what the government takeover of their personal healthcare means, what it will eventually cost and that truly frightens them. Odd how that the reality of socialism hitting them square in the wallet can change idealistic young minds isn’t it?

    For the GOP to compromise conservative ideals in order to attract fickle time-poor young moderns who require instant gratification would be a mistake.

  4. 4
    steve Said:
    5:23 pm 

    Rick:

    Here is the skinny:

    Except for statistically negligible numbers most young people are Apolitical. They do things that are cool, not things that are politically sound. The Democrats are not cool any more so they have lost their youth base. The republicans will NEVER be cool.

    The left will lose because they are not fun anymore. Rebulicans don’t need to be fun because that is not thier base.

    Republicans look stupid when they try to be hip or cool. Republicans are the colder, older wiser heads.

    The left always apeals to emotion and heart strings over clarity and logic. Look at the disriptions of Cheny:
    Mean
    Grumpy
    Evil
    Old

    The left doesn’t understand non emotional judgement. They even assume its that we don’t “LIKE” Obama or we can’t see how much he “CARES”. You here phrases like CARE for the planet. They do not understand cold hard adults running the numbers and walking into the cold wind because it is the right thing to do after a liftime of experience and knowlege. Cheny’s an old man and not cool but he may be right.

    Don’t need or want the extreme youth vote, that they stay home and watch MTV or twitter the latest fad is all we need.

    The “skinny” is that from 1978 until 1996, a majority of those 18-29 identified themselves as “conservative.” And in 2008, that age group increased their participation by more than 1/3 and went overwhelmingly Democratic.

    You can’t go around believing you can abandon entire sections of the country (the northeast, New England), and whole age groups and think you are going to win many elections. That’s nutzo. You don’t win by subtracting but by adding to your numbers. I’d hate to have us learn this lesson the hard way.

    ed.

  5. 5
    michael reynolds Said:
    5:39 pm 

    Yeah, that’s the problem with youth: they lack the calm, clear, older, wiser ability to bankrupt the government, load them down with an eternity of debt, make cross-generational promises without so much as ten seconds’ thought about how they’ll make good, and reduce politics to idiotic gotcha squabbling between cranky old farts who wished they had been at Woodstock and dyspeptic old fools who wish they’d gone to Vietnam.

    Steve: The Greatest Generation and the Boomers conspired to screw this country into the mess it’s now in. Two generations of whiny, needy, greedy, heedless, entitled, self-centered egotists. Very, very much including the execrable Mr. Cheney. And you’re going with that older, wiser bullshit? Really?

    Go take a good, long look at the national debt. See all those zeroes? Now you tell me how many of them came from the apolitical kids who just want to watch MTV and Tweet all day. And how many of them came from self-important, narcissistic gasbags like you, me, and Rick.

  6. 6
    Q. Bones Said:
    5:49 pm 

    The youth (a.k.a. “the yutes”)don’t really turn out to vote. When they reach the age when they DO turnout 55-60% of them are conservatives. Reality has that effect.

    “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brain.”

  7. 7
    Russell Miller Said:
    6:44 pm 

    Cheney is a liar, in my opinion. Might want to find a better example. William Buckley, MAYBE.

  8. 8
    Karl Said:
    9:51 pm 

    It’s as simple as this Rick:

    The majority of eligible voters in 2022 will have no functional memory of the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The GOP has 12 years to come up with an alternative to 80s nostalgia.

  9. 9
    Steve Said:
    10:24 pm 

    Rick

    The participation of the youth vote in 2008 was an emotive outburst. The emotion has been taken and spent and the emoters feel taken. The youth vote is like fish, handle and prepare it well, use it quickly or it will perish. The conservative base is much less fickle and perishable.

    Look at the post apocalyptic movies, people are scared in a slow, deep keep your powder dry and distrust strangers sort of way. People who thought of themselves as sensible liberals are now stocking ammunition. This is not a rushing movement but a slow creep of low grade pervasive fear that the idiots in power are worse than usual and this time it matters.

    The happy hopey changy crowd will stay home, they were betrayed. The white male vote goes republican or stays home.

    Urban areas are now fearing becoming Detroit-e-fied as the policy of buying off race and ethnicity is coming home to roost. Rural areas are tired of being slammed smeared and taxed for urban benifit.

    “Bunch of Hick farmers don’t know how to be good organic enviromentalists gotta shut them down”

    They might not hear exactly those words yet but they are not stupid and they know they are coming. Collectivization is a word farmers are not fond of.

    Anyway, put your ear to the ground of the old wisdom outsie of the trendy hip crowd and you may hear that train a coming.

  10. 10
    shaun Said:
    10:22 am 

    While it is true that the voting power of the Millennials can be overstated and 2008 may be viewed in retrospect as an aberration, and while the Bush Recession has impacted on both parties, this is the long story short:

    The future of the Republican Party can be seen as a set of false teeth in a bedside water glass. The capacity of the Democrats to be their own worst enemy is boundless, but as long as the GOP and their geriatric base is determined to defeat The President With A Funny Name at any cost as opposed to being an opposition party that offers appealing alternatives attractive to people not yet eligible for Medicare and Social Security, it will face electoral disaster in November and 2012.

    The numbers do not lie.

    You are wrong about this November. Unless the economy shows signs of life, at the very least the GOP will make substantial - 25-35 seats - gains in the House. A stalk of celery would beat a Democrat in some of these competitive districts. Dramatically decreased turnout at mid terms will doom the Democrats to big losses - perhaps even a GOP takeover of the House if things are bad enough or the Republicans actually come up with a decent agenda.

    I agree about 2012. I don’t see anyone challenging Obama unless he really screws things up. Even then, perhaps only Romney might be competitive. And some of those gains made in 2010 are likely to fall by the wayside unless the GOP actually, you know, like governs for the next two years. How a party that hates government so much can actually do something about governing will be quite entertaining to watch.

    ed.

  11. 11
    angullimala Said:
    6:37 pm 

    The conservative movement is still obsessed with the stereotypes of the 60s. Those old resentments don’t mean nearly as much to the young.

  12. 12
    Lionheart Said:
    11:11 am 

    I’m not too worried about the Millinial vote. This isn’t original, but I believe it to be generally true: if you’re under 25 and not a liberal, you don’t have a heart; if you’re over 25 and not a conservative, you don’t have a brain.

    Once these youngsters start paying taxes; experience supporting the laziness of others; see less qualified candidates get promoted because of their color; they’ll drift right. Happened to me. From what you’ve shared, it seems like it happened to you too, Rick.

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