Fewer young people identify themselves as Democrats

Flagstaff, AZ – College students fed up with the job market are shifting their political leanings. Fewer young voters see themselves as Democrats compared with 2008. And that shift could help determine whether Republicans win enough seats to take control of the House or Senate in November. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales reports.

At Northern Arizona University's union students caffeinate, study and reconnect with friends. And at a meeting room about 20 students attend the College Republican meeting. Donald Hartwell has recently switched from identifying himself as a Democrat to a Republican. Hartwell has a bachelor's degree but decided to go back to school this year when he couldn't get a job.

HARTWELL: I sent out well over 2,000 applications and just could not find anything. I picked up two freelance jobs at Caltech and spent every night overnight working at Walmart for minimum wage.

Hartwell, like many other young voters, has become dispirited by the slow economy. Unemployment rates among young people have never been higher.

The bad economic climate seems to be good news for the College Republicans.
NAU College Republican spokesman Blake Schritter says the club's membership is up 30 percent over last year.

SCHRITTER: A lot of students told us they recently switched parties because they were tired of the current political climate and lack of opportunities in terms of the economy and job market and they were interested in seeing our approach to economics and policy.

Nationally, College Republicans are 15-hundred clubs strong. Rob Lockwood is spokesman for the College Republican National Committee, which works with campus groups around the country.

LOCKWOOD: One of the most profound misconceptions in American politics in terms of voting attitudes is that young people have always and will always vote for democrats and that's simply not true. In 1984 Reagan won the youth vote by more than 20 percent; in 88 George H.W. Bush beat Dukakis comfortably; in 2000 then Governor Bush and Gore split the youth vote.

But Bill Clinton was quite popular among young voters, and 18 to 29-year-olds practically swooned over Barack Obama. In 2008 exit polls gave Obama a 66 percent edge among young people.

But Lockwood says over the last two years we've seen fewer young people willing to align themselves with President Obama.

LOCKWOOD: Amongst young people the reason this decline has happened they feel lied to they feel the words were hollow and they see the policies were detrimental to jobs and education.

Lockwood and other Republicans are making economic angst a focus of their get-out-the-vote efforts. He plays up the national debt and the idea that young people will be burdened with it.

And the tactic might be working. NAU Young Democrats have disbanded. And Democratic students at the University of Arizona have had trouble getting their club started this year.

Erica Pederson is president of Arizona State University's Young Democrats.

PEDERSON: It might be difficult for Young Democrats to keep their chapters going because of the general apathy that college students especially have. Most college students are transplants from other states and still identify politically with those states and they're not aware and aren't up to speed on the political issues going on in the state where they spend most their time in.

NAU College Republican Donald Hartwell has also witnessed quite a bit of apathy. Even though students are willing to say they're Republican, Hartwell is frustrated that they're not really willing to do much about it.

HARTWELL: In the 60s it was college students who drove the political agenda for better or for worse that's where the energy was coming from. Here it's all amongst people forty and older. I go to the Tea Party in town and I'm one of four people who shows up whose under 60.

They may lack the energy to rally in support of candidates or ideas, but Hartwell hopes young people won't be so apathetic when it comes to showing up at the polls in November.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.