The Big Question

As usual, E.J. Dionne poses the critical political question: will the young people who voted overwhelmingly for Obama when he represented hope and change stay around to support him–and the Democratic party–now that the hard work of governing has highlighted philosophical and tactical differences of opinion on how best to proceed?

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, offered a straightforward formula: “When Republican voters and older voters get angry, they vote,” she said. “When younger voters get angry, they stay home.” Thomas Bates, vice president for civic engagement at Rock the Vote, a group that mobilizes young Americans to go to the polls, shares Lake’s worries. “For people who were energized in 2008, it was a time of hope and optimism,” he said. “And when you get to the brass tacks of governing, the atmosphere in the process of legislating has become poisonous. That makes political engagement as unappealing as possible.” More than is often appreciated, the electoral revolution that brought Democrats to power was fueled by a younger generation with a distinctive philosophical outlook. Put starkly: If only Americans 45 and over had cast ballots in 2008, Barack Obama would not be president.