Young Voters Expect To Be Better Off Than Parents But Still Worry

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University of Iowa students, Sept. 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Charlie Neibergall/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charlie Neibergall/AP

The recently released Rock the Vote poll of young voters (ages 18 to 29) had a few really eye-catching result.

The most stunning one, at least for me, was the optimism about the future captured by the poll.

There's been a lot of discussion in recent years about how voters, meaning parent and grandparent types, fear their kids and grandkids won't be better off financially than the generation before them.

But young voters overwhelmingly disagree with their older counterparts about this. Seventy three percent said they expected to be financially better off.

Again, a fairly remarkable result and in real contrast to the concerns often expressed by their elders. Who knows if it's a cockeyed optimism or not? But it's suggests that if a politician wants to be in tune with these voters, the message had better be one of bigger and better tomorrows.

But here's where it gets somewhat weird. It seems that these same youthful optimists revealed a lot of anxiety when they were asked more specific questions about their financial futures.

For instance, when they were asked questions like whether they worried about not having enough money to be able to save for a house or retirement, a huge percentage — 80 percent — said they were indeed very or somewhat worried.

So that would suggest that politicians might need to address not just the sunniness in this voter population but their gloom. That could make crafting an economic message somewhat harder being that politicians would have to speak to hopes and fears at the same time.

Another noteworthy result was just how polarized the views were based on race and ethnicity. It's as if arguably the most integrated generation of Americans ever still can't get past race.

Take this example.

Only 20 percent of young whites said they were pleased with how President Barack Obama has done so far while 52 percent of African Americans said they were pleased.

Another related example. Only 30 percent of young white voters thought the nation was on the right track while 63 percent of African Americans, 67 percent of Asians and 51 percent of Hispanics believed it was moving in the right direction.

Something the plurality of younger voters agreed on was that jobs and the economy were the top issue.

Thirty four percent said it was the most important issue and that percentage held roughly steady whether you looked at the bottom or top end of that age range and whether the young person identified as a Republican, Democrat or independent.

It suggests what these voters, so important to Democratic fortunes in 2008, want to hear most before the mid-terms — cogent proposed solutions to the mostly jobless recovery the nation is experiencing.

Of course, maybe nothing Democrats could say at this point would be enough since when it comes to the economy, voters tend to base decisions on their personal situation and what's happening to those close to them versus candidates' promises.

As you'd expect, education and college costs were the next biggest concerns of younger voters.

Last thing I'll point out is how young people answered the question as to whether they were more cynical today than in 2008.

Strong majorities across the board said they were more cynical now than they were two years ago.

Whether that has to do with politicians disappointing these voters or the respondents just growing older and wiser is unclear.

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