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Young Voters Sharply Divided by Conflicting Views on Reagan

September 01, 1986|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The young voters who control the future of American politics are becoming increasingly divided, a leading scholar says, with educated, involved youths critical of President Reagan and their less attentive contemporaries ardent followers of Reagan and his policies.

Warren E. Miller of Arizona State University, director of the biennial National Election Survey, said "baby boomers" are "sharply polarized" in their party preferences, largely because "the well-informed are really turned off by Ronald Reagan" while the less involved "voted 70 to 30 in his favor."

Miller offered the preview of a forthcoming study at Saturday's meeting of the American Political Science Assn. Overall, the papers on political trends offered no clear verdict in the continuing debate on the likelihood of a realignment that would establish clear dominance for one party or the other in the remainder of the century.

'Big Government' Issue

Miller did not predict which way the baby boomers will go, but two other political scientists suggested that Reagan's popularity has diminished fears of "big government" and removed that as an issue for future conservative candidates.

Linda L. M. Bennett of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and Stephen Earl Bennett of the University of Cincinnati said those "believing that Washington was too powerful rose from 30% in 1964 to 49% in 1980, but fell to 32% in 1984." Young people particularly "show increasing disinterest in how powerful government is getting to be," they said.

Among the findings:

--A study focusing on young voters by Barbara G. Farah of the New York Times and Helmut Norpoth of the State University of New York at Stony Brook found strong signs of a GOP realignment.

Using a series of 1986 surveys, Farah and Norpoth found the Democratic Party retains plurality strength among all voters except those 80 and older, and those 27 or younger.

A 'GOP Generation'

The youngest of these new voters have shown "the markings of a GOP generation right from the start, signaling a major break with the partisan legacy of their parents," they wrote.

--Three political scientists at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., contended that whites who support the religious right's agenda are a key source of Southern Republican activism.

Using surveys of delegates attending Democratic and Republican state party conventions in six Southern states, Tod Baker, Robert Steed and Laurence W. Moreland found that 63% of GOP delegates are members of or sympathizers with the religious right, while only 11% of Democratic delegates fell into this category.

--A conservative political scientist, Charles R. Kesler of California's Claremont Institute, argued that a major factor inhibiting a Republican conversion of the electorate is conservatism's lack of "an adequate appreciation of democracy."

A significant wing of conservative intellectual thought views American democracy as "composed of mediocre, soulless mass-men, and that true virtue is concentrated in the few," he said, basing his premise on his reading of a number of conservative writers.

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