Self-identification figures for Democrats — in national polls asking young people what party they lean more toward — peaked at 62 percent in July 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. By late last year, the number had dropped eight percentage points, to 54 percent, though researchers saw an uptick earlier this year, back to 57 percent. Republican gains roughly mirrored Democratic losses.
Since young voters tend to sit out midterm elections, these numbers aren't very good for the immediate short term. But taking the long view, is this actually indicative of a real trend? Fewer young people identify as Democrats, but in terms of ideology, has anything actually changed? The short answer is no. According to the full Pew survey, "millenial" voters are still much less likely to hold socially conservative views on family, sexuality, or national security, are more likely to see government as generally effective, and are less likely to agree with the view that government-run enterprises are inefficient and wasteful. Party affiliation notwithstanding, these views are unlikely to change; ideologies form during youth, and once set, they tend not to shift. In all likelihood, millenials will remain oriented toward an activist view of government for the rest of their lives.
That some of these voters are moving toward the Republican Party isn't the worst thing in the world for liberalism; a younger GOP is a more moderate GOP, and a more moderate GOP might see the value in working with Democrats to develop policy. You would still have to contend with the structural factors that encourage partisan cohesion, but we'd all be better off if we had two parties committed to governing the country.
-- Jamelle Bouie