Young voters flock to the G.O.P. in surprising numbers
Question: In what age group does a 73-year-old conservative President seeking re-election find his widest support?
Answer: In 1984, among first-time voters young enough to be his garndchildren.
It is one of the anomalies of this year's presidential campaign. In poll after poll, Ronald Reagan consistently runs strongest not among his fellow senior citizens or even middle-aged voters. Instead, his popularity rating is highest of all among those who are 18 to 24 years old. What is more, members of this age group are registering as Republicans rather than as Democrats or independents, by ratios of 2 to 1 and 3 to 1, reversing a trend that began more than 40 years ago. Says Republican Pollster Robert Teeter: "For the first time since Roosevelt there is a significant group in the electorate who are Republican in greater overall numbers than Democrat. If these people stay loyal, you may have a much stronger Republican Party."
In TIME'S latest Yankelovich survey, voters ages 18 to 24 said they were backing or leaning toward Reagan over Walter Mondale by the astonishing margin of 45 points, 63% to 18%a lead nearly ten points wider than in any other age bracket. Under-25 voters admitted more frequently that they could "pretty easily" change their minds, however, and historically the young vote in numbers half those of the electorate at large.
The Reagan campaign has just completed a study of the youth vote and has decided to schedule more campus appearances in order to take greater advantage of his surprising popularity. On a swing through the Midwest last week, Reagan was accorded a reception by 2,000 students at Ohio's Bowling Green State University that his spokesman described as "the most enthusiastic we have ever encountered." Said Reagan, to earsplitting applause: "You know, your generation is really something. You've made love of country fashionable again."
Many of the young professionals who belong to the slightly older baby-boom group, the yuppies, have a well-refined taste for prosperity, and they formed a core of support for Democrat Gary Hart during the primaries. Voters in the 25-to-34 age group now favor Reagan over Mondale by 56% to 24% in the Yankelovich poll, about the same as the voting population as a whole, yet tend to identify themselves as Democrats. Among sub-yuppies, not only is the margin for Reagan greater but so is the Republican enrollment.
Nearly all analysts agree that the most important factor in the President's Pied Piper appeal to young voters is the improving state of the economy. "They like the kind of notions Reagan gets across, like growth and job opportunity," says Teeter. "They're rejecting this whole idea of limits, that somehow the pie is getting smaller." Democratic Pollster Dotty Lynch agrees: "The youth vote feels the economy is strong, jobs are available. They are giving Reagan the credit." Peter Lund, 20, who is taking a semester off from college to work for the Illinois Republican campaign, is convinced that among students, the job market outweighs anything else. Says he: "They want to know that when they get out of school there will be jobs waiting for them."