The age gap in voting patterns, which began to widen in the 2004 election and became a major factor in Barack Obama’s 2008 victory over John McCain, is not the political norm. In fact, for most of the past four decades, there was little difference in the voting preferences of younger and older Americans. As recently as the 2000 election, younger and older voters – as well as those in-between – were virtually indistinguishable.

As voters look toward the 2012 general election, the generational differences that came to the surface in recent election cycles remain strong. Currently, Obama and Mitt Romney, who has run strongest against Obama in many polls, are tied — each have the support of 48% of registered voters. But when broken down by generation, the gap appears: Millennial voters favor Obama by a 61% to 37% margin, while Silent voters favor Romney by 54% to 41%. The 20-point gap in support for Obama (61% among Millennials vs. 41% among Silents) is almost identical to the 21-point generation gap in the 2008 National Election Pool exit polls, when 66% of younger voters and 45% of older voters backed Obama.

Obama’s 24 point advantage over Romney among all Millennial voters disappears when looking just at white Millennial voters — he currently runs even with Romney with this group (49% voice support for each candidate). In 2008, white Millennials voted for Obama over McCain by a 54% to 44% margin .

Evidence suggests that the enthusiasm and engagement Millennials exhibited four years ago is substantially depleted this time around. While overall interest and engagement levels at this early point in the 2012 election cycle are no lower than they were at a comparable point four years ago, there has been a substantial decline in interest among Millennials. At the same time, there has been a spike in interest among older voters. As a result, where there was virtually no generation gap in voter engagement four years ago, a substantial divide exists today. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.