The Coming GOP Youth Vote Armageddon: Not So Fast
There has been much written regarding the youth vote and how it relates to the future success of the Republican Party on the national stage. This discussion blends into the overall consensus that the GOP has lost the votes of minority demographics throughout the electorate. In other words, the youth vote is considered a minority vote akin to that of African-Americans, Hispanics, or Asians. But nothing could be further from the truth. As I have mentioned in previous articles here, it is not necessary to “win” the Hispanic vote, or the black vote, or even the youth or female vote in order for the Republican Party to prevail. It does, however, take an effort to cut into the Democratic Party’s advantages in these categories. Actually winning the black vote outright may be a Herculean task even if the GOP ran a moderate black candidate for President given the consistent pervasiveness of the black affinity for the Democratic Party. That does not mean that the GOP should ignore or write off the African-American vote. Nor does it mean that the Republican Party should adopt policies and an agenda driven towards gaining the black vote by now endorsing affirmative action and other liberal policies. Likewise, with Hispanics it does not mean the GOP should not reach out to Hispanics or that they should stop advertising on Spanish-language outlets, but neither does it mean the GOP should adopt a liberal immigration reform program bordering on amnesty. With Hispanics, this is especially true since items like immigration reform do not fall very high of their list of priorities.
As for the white youth vote, no one can dispute the objective fact that in 2008, 54% of such voters cast their ballot for Barack Obama. Yet overlooked is the fact that in 2012- just four short years later- Mitt Romney won the vote with 51%. That shift among young white voters is important since it occurred in such a short time and because of its size. Determining the political ideology and, therefore, one’s party affiliation is dependent upon the popularity of the president in office at the time when one enters the electorate. The second largest determining factor is the economic condition of the country when one enters the electorate. Thus, it is possible to have bad economic conditions, but a popular president and still capture the youth vote. Conversely, it is possible to have an unpopular president and good economic conditions and still capture the youth vote. However, if you have bad or even not-so-good economic conditions coupled with a relatively unpopular president, then your chances of capturing the youth vote in the next election are decreased. As it stands now, the political and economic environments dictate these dynamics: the economy, although recovering, is still not so great and Obama’s approval ratings languish in the low 40% range.
To see how this has occurred over time, Franklin Roosevelt was a fairly popular president, but presided over bad economic times- the Depression. That personal popularity trumped his economy. We find that those who entered the electorate during the Roosevelt administration give their vote to the Democratic candidate. In 2004, these people voted for Democrat John Kerry 14 points above the national average. With Truman, who was unpopular, but who was reaping the benefits of a post-war economy, we see these voters later trending Republican as did those political neophytes who entered the electorate during the Eisenhower administrations- a period of economic expansion presided over by a fairly popular Republican president. These people, now age 69-76, are strong, reliable Republican voters who overwhelmingly went for McCain in 2008. The Kennedy/Johnson years are somewhat unsettled among voters today who are 61-68 years old. The closer they push to that 68 year range, the more Democratic they vote. That is because Kennedy was more popular than Johnson and Johnson had the crux of Vietnam on his record.
Those who entered the electorate during the Nixon years show this same tendency. The older they are, the more Republican they vote yet the younger of the now aged 55-60 group are reliable Democratic voters since Nixon’s popularity plummeted during the latter half of his presidential tenure. It was the Ford/Carter and the Reagan/Bush I administrations where the greatest support for the GOP took root. Today, these voters are age 37 to 54. Meanwhile, the Clinton year voters and the Bush II era voters clearly trend Democratic because (1) Clinton was somewhat popular and presided over a boom in the economy and (2) Bush became unpopular towards the latter part of his first term. In fact, there is some evidence that the 37-54 age group carried Bush over the finish line against John Kerry in 2004. The current segment of the electorate age 18-36 definitely trends Democratic overall which is why Obama took the youth vote in 2008. To the older voters in that age range, he represented a change from the Bush era.
That group is still likely to affiliate themselves with the Democratic Party overall, but it is the younger reaches of that age group in which the GOP may find some affinity- people age 18-23, or as some name them, the Young Millenials. And the reasons were already mentioned: a so-so economy that could be so much better coupled with a fairly unpopular Democratic president. All of this points to the fact that the young people of today- no matter the point in history of that “day-” do not necessarily look like the young people of “tomorrow.”
The problem for the Democratic Party is that their share of the electorate with the strongest affinity for that party are older and slowly dying off through attrition. While it is true that a younger batch has emerged, an even younger batch is emerging on the Republican side that more or less counters the Clinton-era “coming of political age voters.” Therefore, it becomes important for the GOP to not only recruit these younger Millenials, but also to reinforce the current advantage through targeted outreach that focuses on important issues, mainly economic. This group is less concerned with the social issues, although they do show an aversion to the Democratic attitudes towards abortion. Instead, they focus on the fiscal- jobs, the overall economy, the budget deficit and national debt, and health care. The Democrats and Barack Obama have created an unique opportunity through their health care reform program that penalizes these very voters in the form of mandates and unwanted coverage packages. They care little for immigration reform, especially if those reforms means less job opportunity for them. Furthermore, as they grow older, settle down and begin to raise a family (which seems later and later these years), educational reform will play a greater role.
The way to achieve this is through the encouragement of programs targeted at young people in high schools and especially colleges to counter the prevailing Leftist leaning of our colleges. Young Republican or Young Conservative organizations should be the norm across this country in order to politically hone the emerging electorate. Furthermore, by empowering them, they are allowed a voice at the table as the party skews younger and the “angry old white men” meme means less and less (in reality, it means little now). By focusing on how the Obama/Leftist policies adversely affect them, this can be achieved. Most importantly, this group must be mobilized to turn out and vote and steered towards those candidates with sound conservative fiscal policies and program proposals- real health care reform that is market-based, reform of Social Security (through partial, voluntary privatization if necessary), and getting the Nation’s fiscal house in order.