Second of two parts (Read Part 1)
"The oldest president in US history and the youngest members of the nation's electorate have forged one of the strongest bonds in American politics."
So wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer in May 1986. Ronald Reagan was then in his sixth year as president, and his support among younger voters was stratospheric. Eighteen months earlier, a pre-election poll commissioned by Time magazine had found voters between 18 and 24 years old expressing support for Reagan over his Democratic challenger, Walter Mondale, by an amazing 45-point margin -- 63 percent to 18 percent. Now, the Inquirer noted, Reagan's support among the young was even greater: According to a new survey, voters younger than 25 were giving Reagan a 79 percent job-approval rating.
As it turned out, even that wasn't his high-water mark. When he left office in January 1989, Reagan's approval rating among the electorate's youngest cohort was an incredible 85 percent.
For half a century, the Democratic Party had commanded the loyalty of most new voters. Under the Gipper, the political tides reversed and first-time voters surged to the GOP. Their devotion helped sweep his chosen successor into office; George H.W. Bush was elected with a majority of the under-30 vote. But by the time Bush ran for re-election four years, Reagan's magic with the young had dissipated. Bill Clinton won a plurality of the youth vote in 1992, and that age group has voted reliably Democratic ever since.
How did Reagan do it? What made him so strikingly popular with so many voters young enough to be his grandchildren? What if anything would it take to persuade today's youngest voters to give the GOP a serious look?
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