Could young voters be the next surprise for Republicans?

Sep 30, 2011

Recent polls suggest that younger Washington state voters are trending more politically conservative than their elders.

In the most recent poll numbers published by KING 5 and conducted by SurveyUSA about the 2012 state governor’s race, voters 18 to 34 years old were more likely to vote for the Republican Rob McKenna (40 percent) than for the Democrat Jay Inslee (33 percent). Their elders – 50 years old and up – were in a dead heat for which one they would vote for with the scales tipping toward Inslee for voters over 65.

 “If you look at where (younger voters) are on the issues … they are significantly more progressive than the older folks,” said Kevin Ingham, vice president of polling and research for Strategies 360, whose recent poll was published in the Seattle Times.

“But when you put it on the scale of will you vote for the Democrat or will you vote for the Republican, it looks like there is quite a bit of … a disconnect there among the 35 and unders.”

Still Democrat, but by a slim margin

While 18 to 24 year olds still view President Obama more favorably (53 percent) than unfavorably (44 percent), their elders, 65 and older, are much more favorable toward Obama (61 percent) than not (34 percent).

The younger voters also would vote for Obama at 51 percent vs. 45 percent for Rick Perry, but their elders would vote for Obama at a much higher rate – 63 percent to 29 percent respectively among the 65 and up crowd. The 55- to 64-year-old crowd split at 48 percent Obama and 32 percent Perry.

What party would they vote for in a congressional race? The young are close to even while their elders 65-plus would vote 54 percent Democrat and 25 percent Republican. They are also less satisfied with Democrats in Congress (32 percent) than those 65 and older (42 percent).

The trend holds for feelings toward Republicans in Congress: The younger the voter, the more they approve of the GOP (26 percent for the young vs. 21 percent elders) and the less they disapprove (64 percent for the young to 74 percent elders).

Disaffection with Obama

One of the things that may be showing up in the polls said Washington pollster Stuart Elway, is that the young who swept Obama into office are less enchanted with him now.

“So there are several questions that come out of that: What do you do next year, if you are disappointed? Do you then vote for Rick Perry because you are disappointed in Obama? Do you sit out and just not bother at all, which is kind of where the smart money is going, the bets are that they are just going to stay home. Or, (will they say) ‘I’ll vote for him but I am going to be less enthralled?” Elway said.

Washington pollster and University of Washington political science professor Matt Barreto doesn’t think the kids are trending toward conservative views more than their elders.

“Overall, I would say (Strategies 360’s) results look consistent with what we’ve seen in Washington State,” Barreto said in an email exchange. “However, their results for younger voters appear to be very inconsistent with existing findings and data in Washington.”

Tea Party surprise?

“I was surprised by those numbers,” Ingham said of his Strategies 360’s poll, “until I looked at the exit polls, and I said, well I’ll be darned.”

The exit poll he is referring to was done by CNN during the 2010 election race between Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Dino Rossi for U.S. Senate. Voters 45 and up went for Murray, but voters 30-44 (the lowest age group CNN published) went for Rossi (56 percent to 44 percent). So, in that election it appears younger voters went for the more conservative candidate.

Throw in the Tea Party, and a survey done by UW’s Barreto in 2010 and the Strategies 360 poll show the younger voters opposed the Tea Party less than their elders, though they still don’t approve of them as much. They simply don’t have as strong an opinion about them as voters 65 and older.

At the very least, it looks likes the Democrats will have to fight to keep the young in their camp.