That's the question pollsters ask respondents to determine party identification. The New York Times has a big piece up on this, "Ailing G.O.P. Risks Losing a Generation," and check the graphic for the numbers on party identification today: "The Party Identification Gap."
There's a lot of talk lately about Republicans losing young voters (they're more liberal, etc., etc.). But this part from the Times on the importance of personality is telling:
Ronald Reagan’s presidency underscores the power of a popular incumbent to win over young voters. When he was elected in 1980, only 20 percent of young Americans identified as Republicans. By 1989, the number had grown to 37 percent, a significant factor in the expansion of the Republican Party during those years.Geez, youth identification toward the GOP grew 17 percent in eight years. That's prettty phenomenal. Right now the Democrats have a 14 point lead among youth voters, but as we've had years of "BusHitler" demonization, it's frankly not unreasonable to suggest that President Obama's near his peak popularity with the younger cohort at the moment.
Certainly we'll know more about trends in party identification over the next couple of years, but a charismatic and popular field of Republican presidential hopefuls for 2012 may help tamp down youth enthusiasm for the Dems, especially as the necessary tax increases to pay for the "generational" debt Obama's foisting off onto America's youth starts hitting youngsters in their pocketbooks. (But, hey, maybe it's all about being in on the "gay thing," so who knows?)
Having said all of this, Meagan McCain recently argued that Republicans have a "crippling technology disconnect" between the party and young voters. Conservatives can get hip, right?