Reagan's Youthful Boomlet

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An important intangible factor seems to be Reagan's forceful style and his image as a reassuring figure of authority. For some, that means his use of American might in the most literal sense. "In Grenada he showed he will stand up to the Soviets," says Stephen Warner, 21, a senior at California's Pitzer College. "We don't have a wishy-washy human rights foreign policy. We say what we're going to do and do it." For many others, Reagan's amiable personality is the appeal. Says Melvin Lowe, 23, a Mondale supporter at the City University of New York: "You have people who disagree with Reagan on the issues—really hate him—but they respect his strong personality and just feel that Mondale is weak."

Such sentiments are ironic among the young, who so often in the past have been inclined to rebel against authority figures. As Governor of California during the Viet Nam era, Reagan stirred youthful anger as a critic of campus unrest. Says one longtime aide: "I can remember when he went to college campuses, it would cause a riot." But Viet Nam and most of the other national traumas of the 1960s and early '70s have little resonance for young voters today, who are caught up in a surge of patriotic feeling. "They have not had disillusioning events in their lives," says Reagan Pollster Richard Wirthlin. Moreover, for all Reagan's talk about old-fashioned values, he frequently exudes a youthful impetuosity of spirit. "The peculiar thing about Reagan is that he is both brash and a preacher of traditional values," says an aide. "He can say, 'You ain't seen nothin' yet' and get away with it."

The key question is whether young Americans' current infatuation with Reagan and Republicanism will last long enough to bring about a historic realignment of party constituencies. Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf points out that few voters ever change their party affiliation and that this inertia has benefited Democrats since the 1930s. Insists Fahrenkopf: "Now young people are registering Republican, and they won't be easy to change either."

Others are skeptical about an enduring shift. "The youth vote is reacting to what it perceives as a healthy economy and to the mythic leadership of Reagan," says Democratic Pollster Hart. "It is not a bellwether for the future." Murray Fishel, a Kent State University political scientist, notes that young voters are more liberal on social issues than Reagan or his party. "Students do not support the Republican platform on issues like the environment or the Equal Rights Amendment," he says. "I think the shift is toward Reagan and not Reaganism." But whether fickle or faithful, the enthusiasm of young voters for Reagan is playing an important, and surprising, role in the current campaign. —By William R. Doerner.

Reported by Hays Corey/Washington and J. Madeleine Nash/Chicago, with other bureaus

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