Are Young Americans Shuffling From Left to Right?

Young Americans have become an integral part of the Obama coalition, but they don't necessarily belong to the Democrats as a recent Pew Research Center study suggests.

The Pew Research Center reported that more young Americans lean Democrat than lean Republican this year -- this is true. However, an analysis of five-year trends conducted by the Harvard Public Opinion Project, which has been tracking political views of young people biannually since 2000, has found that young American's support of Democrats is actually on the decline.

Within this key demographic, the divide in party identification is rapidly shrinking. Fifty percent of young Americans identified as Democrats in 2009 (including independents leaning Democratic), but by 2013 the number declined to 43 percent. In contrast, GOP identification has remained steady at 32 percent (including independents who lean Republican).

More concerning for Democrats is the growing divide between the party identification of 18 to 24-year-olds and 25 to 29-year-olds. Last fall's poll of 2,000 young Americans found young people were six points more likely to consider themselves Republican if they were 18 to 24 than if they were 25 to 29. Democrats have an 18-point advantage among 25 to 29-year-olds, but that advantage decreases to seven points for young American's 18 to 24.

Case in point is the 2013 Virginia governor's race: Exit polling by CNN found Republican Ken Cuccinelli won young voters ages 18 to 24 by a six-point margin, but lost amongst 25 to 29-year-olds by 15 points.

Further evidence indicates that younger Americans are showing stronger support for the GOP. The number of politically active 18 to 29-year-olds who do identify as Democrats has declined from 30 to 24 percent over the last year. In contrast, 31 percent of young Republicans say they are politically engaged -- a number that has remained constant over the past year.

However, it won't be smooth sailing for the GOP. Millennial approval rating of Republicans in Congress has dropped a whopping 16 points over the past five years, hitting a low of 19 percent in 2013, while the approval rating of Democrats dropped half that and sits at 35 percent.

Democrats will struggle to elect any candidates in 2014, 2016 and beyond without strong support in this key demographic.