The young American voter in the new millennium
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A puzzling age gap in vote choice appeared between young and older Americans between the 2004 and the 2012 presidential elections in the United States. This dissertation seeks to explain the emergence and persistence of this gap, and more generally to understand when the usual processes of political socialization might be disrupted. I posit that in today’s polarized political environment, young people are more susceptible to the short-term forces affecting campaigns and elections—namely national context, performance issues, and candidates—due to their malleable partisan preferences. Older Americans, with more crystallized partisan attachments and better-defined political predispositions, are not as easily swayed by national conditions and the short-term forces impacting politics. While young people usually do not pay much attention to nor engage much with politics, the prevailing national conditions and turbulence of the political environment from 2004 to 2012 made politics salient to young people, leading to a performance issue-driven shift in attitudes and opinions about candidate and party competency on handling major problems facing the country. In the future, I expect we might see another age gap in vote choice when party competency is questioned on the large salient issues of an election, particularly on issues of foreign policy, and the national context strongly favors one party over the other.