The kids are all right (except when they don’t show up)

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T SHOW UP)…. Looking through the exit polls from yesterday, getting a sense of exactly why Democrats had such a miserable cycle, it’s worth paying careful attention to the generational differences.

Dems shed a lot of support in these elections, but they did pretty well maintaining the support of younger voters — among voters aged 18 to 24, Dems thrived, winning 58% of the vote. Among those aged 25 to 29, Dems did nearly as well. Democrats got slammed, however, by seniors.

That’s not especially new — in 2008, the numbers were pretty similar. The difference was who showed up. Ezra Klein noted:

The gender breakdown didn’t change much. And nor did the racial breakdown. But the age of the electorate changed dramatically: Seniors went from 16 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2010, while voters between 18 and 29 fell from 18 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2009. Seniors, of course, are the most conservative voters — they were the only age group to back John McCain in 2008. And young voters are the most liberal. They were the only age group that favored Democrats yesterday.

There’s going to be a lot of soul-searching among Democrats after this election. Most of it will be about whether they should’ve been more liberal or more conservative, more ambitious or more modest, more confident or more empathic. But perhaps the most important question isn’t what they could’ve done to make more Americans like them, but what they could’ve done to get more young voters to the polls.

Of course, once Republicans start pushing for cuts in education, and targeting Medicare and Social Security, both age groups may not be especially satisfied with the results of the voting behavior.

Nevertheless, when the electorate is older and whiter, that’s a recipe for massive GOP gains.

Looking ahead, you can count on Dems going out of their way to try to mobilize younger voters in 2012.