The Generation Gap: Did it really go for Democrats?

My Blogher colleague, Karen Bojar, who I previously countered in She vs. Her, writes a rather interesting piece on the generational gap of voters during the recent midterms. Unlike her, I am actually a member of this generation and believe she misses some critical points.

Karen writes that only 11% of voters under 30 turned out , and "Among voters between 18 and 29, 39% of women and 44% of men voted for the Republican." She hasn't captured the whole picture with a few simple statistics.

Since 2000, the first election that Millenials were eligible to vote, the so-called youth vote has increased with every election. The 2010 election was the first one to reverse this pattern (23.5% in 2006 compared to 20.4% in 2010). Was it as Karen alludes due to an angry electorate or a generation swindled by the party they feverishly supported in 2008?

Young voters are the reason that Democrats and President Obama won in 2008. Highly successful voter registration drives, Hollywood celebrities and slick marketing convinced a new generation to vote for the shiny O.

In the intervening two years, young voters grew only slightly less disappointed than their parents and grandparents. The only difference? They distrusted Republicans less than other generations.

While Karen and other Democrats may attempt to say that young voters are still mainly Democrats, this election could still spell DOOM for the left if patterns hold.

Since 2008, more young voters are considering themselves Republicans. In February, Pew found that Democrats were losing their edge with young voters. Gallup soon confirmed this. While Democrats won the youth vote by 19 points in 2010, that gap narrowed from 34 points in  from 2008, a 15 points swing in just two years!

Will this pattern hold? Experts point to the rule of three -- once a voter has picked one party for three consecutive elections, they are a lifetime member. What happens when there's a 15 point swing in two years? This puts even more pressure on 2012. Democrats desperately need to sustain their margins while Republicans need to wake up and reach out to young voters.

However, the 2010 election was the Democrats to lose. Do they really care about issues facing young Americans? Not so much, judging by their outreach efforts to the under 30s:

Meanwhile, Democrats may have missed an opportunity to capitalize on their youth support in this election, according to Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote. Coming off a record level of youth engagement in Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Democrats failed to build on the momentum of 2008 to turn out young voters.

"It could have been a very different outcome last night with investments from candidates in young people," Smith said. "The Democrats could have seen a very different outcome had they engaged in targeting young voters."

In just two years, Democrats lost a tremendous amount of ground, and that's with only a portion of the generation becoming financially-independent adults. Most haven't seen their first paycheck from a full-time job or made their own rent.

The emerging generation is just that-- emerging. We were born between 1980-2000. That means that the first wave of Millenials JUST entered their 30s. (Gulp: I hit 29 two weeks ago). Reaching your 30s changes everything, and Rock the Vote backs up this assertion. According to a press release:

An angry, older electorate erased the Democratic majority last night, but the nation's young voters – who buoyed the swell of participation in the historic 2008 races – emerged from the contests largely immune to the agenda driven by conservatives celebrating victories. According to exit poll data, under-30 voters were the only age demographic to vote for Democrats, with the youngest voters (18-24 year olds) giving Democrats a 19-point margin.

The funny thing about those 25 to 30-year-olds? We're facing the same challenges as our parents, and sometimes it is much worse.

Unemployment among young people is at 13%, far higher than the general population.

As Karen notes, young people can now stay on their parents health insurance plan (Something I'm radically opposed to. I was on my own at 23, why can't other people do it? I even took an AmeriCorps VISTA job and made $9,000 a year in order to have insurance. It was tough, but I made it.), but insurance is only one part of your financial existence. In fact, young Americans are far more likely to opt out of health care even when they can afford it.

Jobs are critical. Recent college graduates face on average  of $23,000 in student loans from undergraduate programs. Before you even cross the platform to receive a diploma, you are already facing a debt load that roughly equates entry level salaries...if you can find a job. The growing need for graduate education only adds to this burden.

This is $23,000 per person and BEFORE rent, insurance, car payments, credit cards, and groceries. It only gets worse once Millenials get married, buy a house and have kids. Added to that burden that most available jobs are in urban centers in America. This makes for great night life but adds to the cost of living. In the DC Metro area, where I live, most people are paying 50% of their gross salary in rent.

Furthemore, we don't know if the federal takeover of the student loan program will truly help students. There's now no competition and less incentives. While Congress set the interest rates for student loans, providers could offer deals such as lowering your interest rates by a point if you enrolled in automatic bill pay or paid on time for a set number of consecutive months. Shaving a few points off of student loans can save you thousands in the long-run.

Those advantages are no longer possible, thanks to the Democrats. It also perpetuates the cycle of raising college costs. Congress raises the limit of what you can borrow, and colleges and universities justify tuition and fee hikes by stating that government loans are available to everyone. Since college costs have increased faster than the rate of inflation, college is quickly becoming more and more unattainable for average families.

When my dad was a veterinary student at a state school from 1978-1982, he paid around $500 per semester for a terminal degree. Three decades later, I attended graduate school at a small, mid-Atlantic liberal arts university. I paid more than twice that amount per credit hour for a master's degree. At this point, the option of pursuing a terminal degree isn't even possible for me.

While the choice of graduate school was mine to make, the vicious cycle of government borrowing limits only feeds the college cost monster.

Who will ultimately pay for all of this? Boomers have created a cozy Ponzi scheme for themselves and will conveniently die before the bill comes due. My generation and our kids will be left with their great aspirations of Americanizing socialism.

As these economic realities hit more and more Millenials, what will happen? Issues are likely to be re-aligned across party platforms. Already, I know a number of socially liberal twentysomethings who support gay marriage but want Social Security reform. My generation also dislikes being told what to do. We're used to customizing everything around us. What happens when Obamacare is fully implemented and the first round of young Americans pay the penalty for not having health care? It won't be pretty. 

Karen incorrectly blames this election on voter registration and time commitments:

But it appears that many young people do not see the connection between these policies and voting in mid-term elections. There’s no magic bullet here, but I think making it easier to vote has got to be part of the solution. In my state, Pennsylvania, voters must register 30 days prior to the election, there is no early voting, and the process for getting an absentee ballot is very cumbersome. Young voters, who are often juggling school, jobs and family responsibilities often find squeezing in time to get home to vote a real challenge.

Older voters, who are in many cases retired, have a relatively easy time getting out to the neighborhood polling pace. This system of voting in one’s neighborhood may have made sense when most people worked close to home, but it’s clearly creating hard ships for many working people now.

The hordes of young voters who turned out for Obama are still registered to vote. Throngs of busy college students managed to find time to vote in 2008. Why not in 2010? That's a weak excuse. I voted absentee in Virginia this year (because of my job), and it wasn't hard. I registered to vote in Virginia and voted within 15 minutes. I've also traveled 100 miles between cities to vote while I was in college and voted early when I still lived in Tenneesee. Why? Because I wanted to vote.

Above all, Millenials are well-balanced (the highest compliment possible!) and excellent at time management. If we want to do something, we'll find a way. If we got to the polls in 2008, we just as easily could have gone in 2010.

The truth is that Democrats let young people down. Polling and legislation passed since 2008 prove it. Obama isn't the post-racial, post-partisan president he promised to be. The ocean levels haven't receeded, and this lady is probably still paying her mortgage and buying gas.

Young Americans were duped by the Dems in 2008 and know it. The only problem is that Republicans haven't tried very hard to woo them. As health care costs skyrocket because of Obamacare and unemployment remains high, will young people continue to embrace liberalism or will the gap continue to shrink in 2012 and 2014 before the entire generation is eligible to vote in 2020? In many ways, the fate of the Millenial generation is in the hands fo the GOP.

Adrienne works in the conservative movement and blogs at Cosmopolitan Conservative.