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How Will The New Crop Of First-Time Voters Lean In 2016?


The generation that came of age during the Bush administration voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Their younger siblings, who were teenagers during the Obama years, are now grown up. In 2016, they'll get their first chance to vote for president. And NPR's Asma Khalid reports they might not be as blue as their big brothers and sisters.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: So, technically, demographers lump these kids under the same label as me. We're both millennials. But I'm more like their big sister. My generation came of age in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. These new voters were in kindergarten when the twin towers were hit. And for 19-year-old Abby Pokraka, that was her first political memory.

ABBY POKRAKA: The 9/11 attacks and, like, George W. Bush trying to, like, console the American public and, you know, be, like, a father figure almost and just, like, tell everyone that it's going to be OK and everything like that.

KHALID: Pokraka is a student at the University of New Hampshire.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't even know if there's going to be a kiddie table, right? So...


KHALID: She's part of a class that's discussing the presidential election.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Have a good evening. Thanks.

KHALID: As we get to talking, here's the thing that strikes me - party ID is kind of fluid for these guys.

POKRAKA: I'm a registered Republican. That's just kind of how I grew up.

KHALID: So even though Pokraka's a Republican, she tells me she's intrigued by Hillary Clinton. I ask her why.

POKRAKA: I think it's just, like, being a woman honestly. And, like, she dealt with her husband's presidency and, like, everything that happened with that and, like, she still held her head, like, high. And she's still running for president regardless of, like, what everyone thinks about her.

KHALID: Her friend Shawna O'Neil joins the conversation.

O'NEIL: Well, I'm actually a registered Democrat, but I have been kind of playing the Democrat field, and I haven't really found anyone that spikes my interest.

KHALID: So she's flirting with the idea of Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida. O'Neil is concerned about student loans and national security, and she says Rubio is talking about those issues.

O'NEIL: Normally, Democratic frontrunners are very, like, powerful orators who can rally people, and that's something that I always look for. I loved Barack Obama. He was a brilliant speaker. I saw him live twice. But then with Hillary I don't get the same vibe sometimes. And when I listen to Marco Rubio speak sometimes, he has that vibe for me.

KHALID: Pokraka and O'Neil are kind of characteristic of their generation and its rejection of political labels. John Della Volpe has spent years studying young voters at the Harvard Institute of Politics. He says my generation was influenced by the Bush years, but these first-time voters are influenced more by the Obama years.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: This generation came of age during more gridlock, more partisanship and the recession, and I do see some subtle differences.

KHALID: For example...

VOLPE: I think they're more open to having discussions with members of the other party.

KHALID: And he says they're also more focused on diplomacy and the economy. Take Halie Vilagie. She's a young woman from Ohio I met recently, and when we got to talking about politics, I asked her what her first political memory was.

HALIE VILAGIE: I grew up watching "The Colbert Report" and Jon Stewart. And that's kind of how I made my introduction to politics at a very young age.

KHALID: We keep talking.

VILAGIE: In 2008, I skipped school to watch President Obama's inauguration because I was so excited about him being elected. And I think that after eight years, I'm a little disenchanted with some of the Democratic policies and the lack of change that's been made. I lost some of that exciting hope and change that was very appealing to a 14-year-old.

KHALID: She says as a 20-year-old Republican, she's disappointed in how Obama dealt with the economy.

VILAGIE: We matured and grew up during the great recession of 2008, so a lot of us saw our families lose jobs. So as we enter college, we're now very concerned about the degrees we're getting and how marketable they are.

KHALID: Research suggests kids like Vilagie who will cast their first vote for president in 2016 might vote differently than their big sisters did in 2008. These new voters seem slightly more independent and less affiliated with the Democratic Party. But almost a year before anyone casts a vote for a Republican or a Democrat, it's too early to say how their political awakenings will play out. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.