If only people age 30 and older could vote, Mitt Romney would be president today. In the last election, Romney beat Obama among voters age 30 and over by two points. But he still managed to lose the election because Obama dominated among younger voters, 60%-36%. Republicans have been decimated by young voters in the last three elections, even though young people basically voted the same way as their elders in every election from 1976 to 2000. To explain this divergence, we need to revisit a brief political phenomenon from a decade ago: the “South Park Republican.”
In 2001, political writer Andrew Sullivan coined the term “South Park Republican” to describe young conservatives like himself who loved Comedy Central’s iconic show about four foul-mouthed fourth graders, especially its skewering of liberal causes like multiculturalism, pacifism, and extreme environmentalism. According to Sullivan, “South Park” gave voice to young Republican-leaning voters (the average viewer’s age is 28) who “believe we need a hard-a** foreign policy and are extremely skeptical of political correctness,” but would describe themselves as moderate on social issues, especially abortion and gay marriage.
In 2005, Brian C. Anderson, editor of City Journal, ran with the “South Park” idea, publishing a whole book about it, titled South Park Conservatives. Columnist Michael Barone praised the book’s inside look at how “today’s young people are rebelling against the left-wing dominance of the established media” and predicted these kids would “build quite a different America from what we have been led to expect.”
Today, the South Park Republicans aren’t building a “different America.” They are extinct. Even though they were heralded as a rising political force just a few years ago, today they are the political equivalent of the dodo bird — gone and probably gone for good. So what happened to them? Basically, the South Park Republicans became liberals — starting with Sullivan himself, who as late as 2006 was publishing a book called The Conservative Soul, but today can be found bashing Republicans and praising Obama every chance he gets.
Sullivan is a perfect case study of why the South Park Republicans evolved from conservative to liberal. There were three key reasons they abandoned the GOP: Iraq, gay marriage, and then, finally, Obamamania.
Sullivan was once a vocal cheerleader for the Iraq War. But starting in 2004, he grew disillusioned with it. And it wasn’t just because the war turned out to be tougher and bloodier than the “cakewalk” the administration promised. It was because of a whole host of issues: perceptions that the administration misled the public about WMDs, torture, Abu Ghraib, Scooter Libby, and the total ostracizing of critics.
Sullivan voted for Bush in 2000, but four years later, he reluctantly voted for Kerry. Young people also abandoned Bush. Even though Bush’s share of the popular vote rose from 48% to 51% from 2000 to 2004, among those age 29 and under, it fell from 48% to 45%. And Iraq was the biggest reason.