Perhaps intuitive to most, recent polls conducted by USA Today and Gallup indicate conclusively a wide age disparity between typical Obama supporters and typical Romney backers. Millennials are more likely to vote for Obama. Senior citizens, for Romney.
Viable explanations for this trend run the gamut from obvious to complex. Many millennials, often designated as the group currently aged 18 to 32, point to the diversity Obama brings to the table as a relatable and attractive feature to this demographic. After all, the U.S. is more diverse than ever before, and despite the “Speak English Or Go Home” bumper sticker I saw on the way to work today, it shows no signs of reversing course.
Another explanation might be that, in the eyes of the older generation, Obama represents a drastic change in ideology, and so it is inevitable that seniors will oppose him. This explanation, of course, relies upon the stereotype of older people disliking any sort of change. A stereotype, I might add, that has the largest kernel of truth of any that I have come across.
But both of these explanations are at least a little specious. A closer look at the policies that the two age groups and the two candidates favor should lead to a more nuanced understanding of this phenomenon.
For instance, just look at the types of values each age group holds near and dear to their hearts. About 48% of young people say “opportunity” is most important to them, while 41% choose “equality.” Older Americans, however, answered with “liberty” (41%) and “justice” (36%). It doesn’t take a mental leap to see why a constituency that deems “equality” as one of its core values also supports the candidate whose signature achievement is the near-universal expansion of health care. And it is just as it is easy to see why those who choose “liberty” as most important to them would oppose a candidate they believe will propose tax hikes, which can be seen as a government infringement upon “liberty.”
It should also be unsurprising by now that the generation of which 42% believe “our current economic problems show what happens when you rely too much on the market and reduce regulations on corporations,” supports the candidate who preaches financial regulations (Obama) and not the self-proclaimed champion of free enterprise.
Poll after poll also show that young voters align with Obama on social issues, such as gay marriage. Almost 6 in 10 Millennials say the next president should support legalizing gay marriage, as compared to only 1 in 4 seniors.
Though younger people notoriously exercise their suffrage less than seniors, it is worthwhile to note that in 2020, Millennials will comprise nearly 40% of the voting population, give or take a few percentage points, depending upon one's definition of a millennial. Their views, on uneven footing with seniors in the current election, will soon rule the day.
That is, inarguably, a good thing, regardless of one's political preference. The diversity of the up and coming generation can only be lauded. The same is true for their educational attainment, higher than ever before and still rising. The only question now - a particularly pressing one for the Republican Party - is how to successfully address this increasingly influential demographic.