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Youth Vote Shifts Right

Rock the vote poll shows voters support Arizona immigration law, oppose Ground Zero mosque.

5:39 PM, Sep 28, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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President Obama will hold a rally in deep-blue Madison, Wisconsin today in an attempt to rally one of his most enthusiastic voting blocs from 2008. But as the president tries to fire up young voters, recent polling shows they're increasingly cool on the president's policies.

A September Rock the Vote poll showed the Democratic advantage in party affiliation has been cut in half since 2008—down to 9 percent from 18. Democrats get 35 percent, Republicans 26 percent, and Independents 29 percent. (2008 Rock the Vote Numbers were 41 D, 23 R, 25 I).

While Obama and Democrats remain more popular than Republicans, the Tea Party, and conservative figures, young voters' reactions to issues in two polls belie the assumption that enthusiasm for Obama translated into undying to devotion to liberalism.

For instance, a majority of voters ages 18-29 side with the majority of the American people against the president on the Arizona immigration law and the Ground Zero Mosque. According to the Rock the Vote poll, they support the Arizona immigration law, 53-44.

On the issue of the Ground Zero Mosque, young people give another surprising answer, opposing it 52-41:

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In a broader shift from 2008, and a foreboding one for Democrats, the federal deficit has crept into the issues most important to young people. It places third in the Rock the Vote poll--close behind concern about jobs and the economy and the cost of college--with 66 percent "very concerned" about it. In 2008, the deficit was 12th of 15 issues for young voters.

A Harvard Institute of Politics poll in March showed that, when it comes to the deficit, young people would even trade speedier economic recovery for keeping the deficit down:

When offered a choice, a majority (51%) of young adults said they believe that the "President and Congress should worry more about keeping the budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover;" 45% of 18-29 year-olds said that the "President and Congress should worry more about boosting the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits now and in the future."

Left-leaning pollster John Anzalone, who did the Rock the Vote poll with right-leaning Tarrance Group, included this concern (pdf) about the deficit in his advice to Democrats on energizing young voters:

Although those under 30 strongly support increased investment in renewable energy and college aid, they are not looking for politicians to simply throw money at problems.  The national debt is a grave concern for this age group (66% very concerned / 93% concerned overall) as they do not want to be forced to shoulder the burden of future tax increases.  Given this, Democratic candidates must be sure to demonstrate a commitment to reining in wasteful spending and reducing the deficit, while framing investments in renewable energy and college aid as important for both short and long-term economic growth.

There are plenty of caveats for Republicans in the data too, as a majority of young people support repealing Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans, and their reservoir of good will for Obama and a Democratic Congress is far deeper than the general public's.

But the polls do constitute encouragement for Republican candidates to reach out to a demographic many might have considered a lost cause since the election of President Obama. Republican young voters are more enthuisastic about voting this year than Democrats. A plurality of young voters (36 percent) says they don't care who is in control of Congress, and 59 percent are more cynical about politics than they were two years ago, suggesting Obama's inability to deliver on changing the way Washington works has had an impact on Democratic support.

Kristen Soltis, Director of Policy Research at the right-leaning pollster The Winston Group said Republicans should be glad for recent signs that "all is not lost" for reaching these voters.

"This could have gone a very different way," Soltis said. "And, Republicans should be thanking their lucky stars that they now have a chance not to lose a generation of voters."

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