15 May 2008

Why won't they talk about it?

With the two Democratic primary contenders being effectively identical on matters of concrete policy, much of the chatter in the big and small media has been devoted to breakdowns of demographic support. We all know the drill by know. Obama wins African-Americans and educated whites, Clinton gets white women, Latinos, and, as she infamously says, "hard-working white people." There's another demographic that's been breaking sharply for Obama, however, that's passively acknowledged but seldom analyzed in any detail: Young voters.

Exit poll data shows that Obama does consistently better among the youth vote regardless of race, class, or gender. In Indiana, which Clinton won by a scant two points, Obama won among voters aged 17-29 by a 22-point margin. Clinton won among white voters as a whole by 18 points, but lost under-30 white voters 54-46. The MSNBC poll does not break down age by gender, and there are frequently not enough black and Latino voters to register representative samples. In Texas, Obama nearly broke even with Latino voters under-30 while losing the overall Latino vote handily, though in California his results were similar through all age brackets.

Likewise, Clinton has been sweeping up the over-65 vote by large margins in virtually every state. In Indiana, she won this group by 40 points, and it rarely breaks less. In North Carolina, she lost the overall vote by 15, but still carried the loyal elderly 57-41.

So, I'm sure you're saying that this is all mighty academic, and nothing we don't already know. Well, yes, we know it, but, unlike with the rest of this identity-obsessed race, no pundit seems inclined to wager on what it means. Perhaps the ages-old conflict between children and their parents (though in this case, it's more like their grandparents) doesn't have the contemporary pomp and circumstance to keep them interested. But with Obama set to face John McCain in the general election, the generation gap will only get more pronounced as the divide between young and old reaches almost-comical levels.

At least the mainstream pundits will have to muddle through for the first time a presidential election which doesn't involve re-fighting the same cultural battles of the 1960s. As John Rogers put it so succinctly, the media drumbeat during the 2004 election seemed to be, "Fuck the current war, we've got some Vietnam shit to settle!" They've been trying, of course, such as pleading with us to believe Obama might have had some dealings with Weathermen agitator Bill Ayers as a uniquely precocious eight-year old. Tim Russert's head may balloon to an even-more-ungodly size going through withdrawal symptoms, but I think he and his colleagues will survive the ordeal.

It's likely they'll survive it by ignoring it, though, and that would be a shame, because the generation gap isn't going to go away. Whether or not one sees Obama as an agent of genuine change, he is nonetheless an avatar for the battle between aging Boomers clinging to one more banzai run at saving their legacy and post Gen-Xers staking their own claims to a vision of which direction the country should go.