Last year, young Americans started about 2 million small businesses. The social media revolution has transformed Generation Y into a highly mobile and ambitious group eager to take risks and take charge as entrepreneurs. They scoff at being written off as lazy or entitled. They don’t want handouts. They want a chance — a chance to build something on their own, to create their own niche in the world using their own unique skills and experience.
They don’t need any more “hope” and “change” from a community organizer. They need a CEO to open the door for those opportunities through smart financial and operational management. Generation Y has seen enough John Hughes-inspired high school movies to know that the popular kid is an illusion and nerds always prevail in the end. If Romney wants to win the youth vote, he should give up on trying to compete with the cool kid and own every bit of his dorky, brainy reputation.
It’s easy to imagine that Obama will hold that 35-point lead among the youth vote. But it’s important to remember that in the last presidential election with a Democrat sitting in the White House — Bill Clinton in 2000 — young voters were split evenly between the parties. Thirty-six percent identified as Democratic and 35 percent identified as Republican. Clinton had a 63 percent national approval rating at the time. Obama will not reach those numbers in the next six months. Young voters don’t have years of ingrained party allegiance; instead they have three and a half years of hardship. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see party identification shift favorably to the Republicans in November.
Make no mistake: The youth vote is up for grabs in 2012. And if the polls remain as tight in five months as they are today, the youth vote could be a factor in swinging the election. It remains to be seen which candidate will be the first to truly embrace young voters. We’ll know the answer when the candidates stop running for prom king and start running for student council president.
Brad Chase is a partner with Capitol Media Partners, the international communications and public affairs firm based in Los Angeles. He was recently named to PR News’ 15 to Watch list, which recognizes the best communications executives in the United States under the age of 30. He has worked for Democratic political campaigns and causes but is now an independent. Twitter: mrbradchase