The GOP's problem with younger voters is relatively new. Richard Nixon won 52 percent of voters under 30 in 1972. Ronald Reagan won 59 percent of the youth vote in 1984. In 2000, George W. Bush lost under-30 voters by only two points. By 2004, however, a study showed that those under 30 were "the only age group to prefer the Democratic ticket over the Republican, albeit by a fairly narrow margin of 54 percent to 45 percent."
The trend is generally explained in terms of personal identification: The GOP is the old, white, intolerant party. Voting for Barack Obama was an expression of youth, coolness and racial tolerance. Now, however, Obama is hemorrhaging support from young voters; he is down 17 points in this week's CNN poll.
This doesn't mean that young voters will automatically fall into the laps of Republicans. GOP politicians need to stop turning off younger voters by living up to their stereotype of intolerance and explain why their agenda is better for young people.