In 1980, I was a college freshman at the University of Missouri. I was 18 and I was a mush-brained idealist who had never voted before. My ultra-liberal grandfather, an English professor, had convinced me that John Anderson was the best hope for the USA. My grandfather was a man I deeply respected, so I took his Anderson button, wore it, and promoted him as the candidate of choice. Of course the man didn't have a prayer of winning, and the results of the election showed it. But we were terrified of Reagan starting a war, many of us had just registered for the draft, and there were still memories of Vietnam and Watergate.
Now I was probably an anomaly at the time, as in the early 80s through the early 90s, the GOP actually controlled the "youth vote". That's a bit hard to fathom, considering what occurred this week. Today, Patrick Ruffini describes the "Straight Ticket Youth Vote" and how it was hugely responsible for Obama's win. Ruffini points out the following:
The percentage of youth voters hardly budged from previous POTUS elections - 18% this year, versus 17% in years past.
There was a coattail effect, as that voting block voted in almost the same percentages for down-ticket House seats as they did for Obama (low/mid 60s)
The big kahuna - a 25% swing in the youth vote towards the Dem candidate from prior elections. As Ruffini points out, this comes out to approximately 4.5% of Obama's vote total - 3/4 of his winning margin!
Even if one discounts the African-American portion of the youth vote, the percentages are still substantial.
Economist Greg Mankiw also looked at the effects of youth on the Obama win. Based on his experiences at Harvard, Mankiw concludes that the reason for the movement of the young is not economic - it is based on foreign policy and social issues, such as abortion. They didn't like Sarah Palin because of her social conservatism. Ross Douhat warns Mankiw to not use his Harvard sample set as indicative of youth as a whole, and I agree - to a point. Based on my limited view of the youth world, seen through the lens of my 18-year-old son and his Facebook friends, the attitude that Mankiw states is pretty widespread. However, Douhat points us to a 2007 Pew Survey on Generation Next that documents some interesting points, such as the youth's support for Social Security privatization and opposition to abortion that is in line with the U.S. population as a whole.
So, what to make of this? Mankiw believes the GOP should move left on social issues to try to recapture this block:
So what does the Republican Party need to do to get the youth vote back? If these Harvard students are typical (and perhaps they are not, as Harvard students are hardly a random sample), the party needs to scale back its social conservatism. Put simply, it needs to become a party for moderate and mainstream libertarians. The actual Libertarian Party is far too extreme in its views to attract these students. And it is too much of a strange fringe group. These students are, after all, part of the establishment. But a reformed Republican Party could, I think, win them back.
Does the GOP need to focus more closely on the youth vote? If so, what do we do? Here are some semi-related thoughts:
Many of those in their college years are living sheltered lives - they are still being supported by Mom & Dad, they aren't earning their own living, and the realities of the real world are lost on them until they are forced to go forth into the outside world. The number of "boomerang kids" has increased substantially, prolonging a fantasy world devoid of the realities of self-support, taxes, raising a family, etc.
Years of liberal indoctrination in the public schools of the US and in colleges and universities are finally paying off for the Left. This is something we will have great difficulty combating.
The GOP is hardly a bastion of new technology exploitation. Sites like Redstate.com are doing their best to improve this situation, but we still have much room for improvement. The Obama campaign seemed to do much better with this. For example, the ratio of pro-Obama messages to pro-McCain messages on Twitter was overwhelming. You'd think conservatives never set foot in the place. The same goes for Facebook - while a number of the Redstate regulars are out there, there is quiet a conservative wilderness.
According to the Pew survey, the youth are quite liberal on most social issues and on national security (e.g. Iraq, methods of dealing with terrorism), but mainstream on the economy and how to handle it.
All this leads me to this question:
- Can the GOP be a party for all people? Or is youth a demographic to which our message simply will not resonate?
Unlike Mankiw, I am quite opposed to the GOP turning our backs on social conservatism. What's right is right, and we should not compromise that for political expediency. During this election season, the social messages were hardly in the forefront anyway. The problem then becomes one of changing perception and of marketing, which is an item that many have pointed out both before and after the election. We must make a connection between conservative philosophy and the concerns of youth. Despite David Frum's somewhat off-the-wall recommendations for the GOP detailed in Feddie's diary today, back in April he actually had some coherent recommendations for the GOP with respect to the youth...and his recommendations largely revolve around how the GOP sells itself to youth.
I doubt we'll see a return any time soon to a point where the 18-29 segment supports Republican candidates in a manner similar to the 1994 era, but with some effort we may be able to move that percentage captured by Obama back down to a reasonable level. As close as the last few elections have been, this past Tuesday notwithstanding, that may be a substantial accomplishment.