In high school, I was a rather awkward, nerdish history buff. (My wife would dispute the verb tense.) I was also something of a lefty, particularly compared with my conservative religious upbringing. I debated on behalf of Jimmy Carter in the mock election at my Christian high school during the 1980 election, making me a political minority of one.
But my political identification had begun to shift by 1984, and I cast my first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. For me, exposure to economics had an ideologically sobering effect. (A young liberal can’t be too careful in his or her reading.) In addition, Walter Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, had turned conservative religious people into a rhetorical skeet target. And Reagan himself — who had demonstrated personal courage and a capacity to govern — seemed to embody something hopeful and decent about the country.
I was not alone. In 1984, voters ages 18 to 24 supported Reagan over Mondale by 61 percent to 39 percent. “The oldest president in U.S. history and the youngest members of the nation’s electorate,” said the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1986 , “have forged one of the strongest bonds in American politics.” The first serious political memories of my generation were of an appealing, creative, electorally dominant (at the national level) GOP.
Now jump forward to a recent USA Today/Rock the Vote poll that shows Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by 56 percent to 20 percent among voters under 35. Let that sink in. Trump is supported by 1 in 5 younger voters — an astonishing and consequential collapse for the GOP. Though the young don’t turn out at election time with the same frequency as older voters, they always get (and deserve) particular attention from the parties. In the long run, younger voters are older voters. In the long run, older voters are . . . companions to John Maynard Keynes.
So why is Trump crashing and burning among the young? The 2016 election excludes some explanations. It cannot be that Clinton is making an inspiring, Barack Obama-esque appeal to youthful idealism. During the primaries, Clinton was routinely trounced among the young. In Iowa caucus entrance polling, Bernie Sanders bested Clinton among 17-to-29-year-old Democrats by 84 percent to 14 percent — the previous most laughable showing among the young.