Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Young voters are losing trust in their elected leaders

- Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@ washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

WASHINGTON » What is this, Stockholm syndrome?

The latest polling data from Harvard’s Institute of Politics should be discouragi­ng to Democrats, who have traditiona­lly been able to depend on young bleeding-hearts for electoral support: A majority of 18- to 29-yearold likely voters now say they would prefer a Republican-controlled Congress to a Democratic one, by a margin of 4 percentage points. That’s true even though those very same voters say Democrats in Congress are doing a better job than their Republican counterpar­ts.

To be fair, both parties get pretty lousy marks from young likely voters: Democrats received a 35 percent approval rating, while Republican­s got 24 percent.

But even so, my generation’s stated preference­s are perplexing: We millennial­s apparently want to be ruled by the party we think is the greater of two evils.

This makes even less sense when you consider how the GOP has treated politicall­y engaged millennial­s.

For years, in states such as North Carolina, Maine, Ohio and Texas, Republican politician­s have tried to make it systematic­ally harder for young adults to cast ballots or even register to vote. Sometimes these suppressio­n efforts blanket broad swaths of voters likely to vote Democratic (by curtailing early voting, for example).

But some efforts specifical­ly target young people (ending pre-registrati­on for 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day, threatenin­g to cut funding for universiti­es that help out-of-state students register to vote, etc.).

History suggests this is a good strategy for Republican­s. The young are not universall­y Democrats — about half now call themselves independen­ts — but in recent decades they have reliably awarded a majority of their votes to Democrats. In 16 of the last 19 federal elections, 18- to 29-year-olds favored the Democratic House candidate, according to exit polls. And the margin they’ve given to Democrats has been especially large in the past decade: In 2012, Democratic congressio­nal candidates beat Republican­s by a 22-point margin among the under-30 crowd. Strong turnout among the young has swung major elections away from Republican­s, too; without their vote, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvan­ia and Virginia would have all flipped from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Given young people’s voting records, and Republican­s’ efforts to suppress the youth vote altogether, why are millennial­s suddenly turning into Republican­s en masse?

The answer is they aren’t. If you look at the entire universe of young people in Harvard’s poll — not just respondent­s who say they’ll “definitely” vote but also those who say they’re less likely to vote — they say they would prefer a Democratic-led Congress to a Republican-led one.

That is, the young overall still skew Democratic, just as history would predict. Many are just not motivated enough to act on their stated political beliefs by actually casting a ballot.

Voter turnout rates among the young almost always disappoint, espe- cially in midterm years. In federal elections over the past five decades, turnout rates for 18- to 24-yearolds during midterms have averaged about half their rates during presidenti­al elections (22 percent vs. 42 percent). The drop-off in other age groups isn’t nearly as big (among people over 65, it falls from 67 percent to 59 percent).

It just so happens that this time around, the youth turnout drop-off will be especially strong among Democrats. Exactly why is unclear. Maybe Republican efforts to suppress the youth vote have been more successful and targeted than anyone anticipate­d, with young Democrats across the country deciding that it’s just too much trouble to find the necessary paperwork and time required to vote. I’m not terribly convinced by this explanatio­n, given everything else we know about attitudes of the young toward forbidden fruit. Young liberals who are aware of scheming to suppress their votes might be all the more motivated to cast a ballot.

I think young people just feel abandoned by Democrats. With youth joblessnes­s rates still crazy high, recent college graduates groaning under the weight of student loans and millennial­s frequently blamed both for their own underemplo­yment and the country’s overall economic woes, Democratic promises of hope and change have lost their shine. On lots of (mostly social) issues, millennial views comport more closely with the Democratic platform than the Republican one, but of all current generation­s, millennial­s are least likely to say they see much difference in the two parties.

Maybe the best form of youth voter suppressio­n isn’t a voter ID law, long lines or closing the polls early. It’s convincing millennial­s that our presumed leaders don’t give a damn about us.

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