American youth are beginning to wake up from a two year-long, political Kool-Aid drinking binge and are discovering Obama doesn’t look all that pretty in the morning. After a year of broken promises and an all-out assault on American youth, in regards to Obama’s legislative policies, youth are falling out of love with their once endearing icon.
While most polls show Obama losing popularity among all age demographics it’s interesting to note he is falling faster among 18-29 year-olds. According to Gallup, Obama’s standing with youth dropped 11 points this past summer. This is striking when compared to the 2-to-1 margin whiplash Republicans received when Obama won the presidency only one year ago.
To understand his fall from grace among youth, one only needs to evaluate some of his legislative initiatives from 2009:
• While the president promised economic recovery and passed the expensive economic stimulus package early last year, youth still maintain the highest unemployment rate, at 19%, out of any age demographic;
• Youth are the largest uninsured constituency when it comes to health care. Yet according to a November Zogby poll, youth are the least supportive, at 25%, of the president’s heath care initiative;
• In a time when parents and students are pinching pennies to pay for college, the Democrats in congress led the effort to eliminate the private-sector based Federal Family Education Loan program–a successful program that helps millions of families send their children to college;
These are just some of the examples of why youth are beginning to scratch their heads and question their faith in Obama and the Democrats after the 2008 campaign that promised them “hope” and “change.”
While youth typically identify themselves as independents rather than Republican or Democrat, they tend to be socially liberal and fiscally agnostic. These tendencies can be rooted in the liberal populist tendencies on college campuses and not yet venturing into the job marketplace full time and paying taxes. There is the old adage that one becomes a conservative when he receives his first real paycheck and discovers almost 40% goes to government, primarily for a medical and social security program he will never reap the benefits from (though the unemployment line item might be useful to them these days).
When it comes to politics, youth can be swayed to vote a certain way. They are concerned about many of the same things adults are concerned with. They want a robust economy so they can find a good job (when they graduate) and want to be able to pay off their college debt with low-interest loans. While other issues like the environment, abortion, and the war play into the youth psyche, a concerted youth outreach effort can win them over if it is applied meaningfully and effectively.
Reaching out to youth is not nuclear physics but is rather one of priorities. One only needs to look at the recent Virginia gubernatorial race as Republican Bob McDonnell won the youth vote by a healthy 10%. This is in stark contrast to the Virginia youth vote in 2008 that overwhelmingly voted for Obama, partially due to John McCain’s lackluster youth effort. McDonnell led a concerted statewide youth effort and took it so seriously that he even had one of his daughters run it. McDonnell’s example shows a candidate, especially a Republican one, can win a substantial youth vote count by presenting practical, common-sense solutions that are catered to a youth electorate.
Democrats have traditionally been better at this because they’ve spent years perfecting their youth outreach efforts on college campuses, taken advantage of the endless parade of so-called nonpartisan youth voter groups, and have successfully utilized celebrity influence. The national Democrats have taken youth outreach so seriously that they even have a Youth Council at the DNC.
While the right is experiencing a resurgence of sorts in youth activism, due primarily to the Tea Party Movement and new youth groups, the right has a long way to go in order to change youth voting trends. Youth haven’t voted Republican since the 1988 presidential election and haven’t recovered since then.
The president still enjoys an overall positive approval rating among youth but the Republicans have a unique opportunity to build a new generation of conservatives, versed in the traditions of Buckley, Reagan, and American “First Principles,” while Obama love dissipates. If Republicans can reach out to young voters today, they can win and build a base for a new generation. This is critical since the millennial generation will be 30% of the electorate by 2012. With a concerted nationwide youth outreach effort, the year 2010 could be a year of “hope” and “change”–but for Republicans.
Christopher N. Malagisi, 28, is president of the Young Conservatives Coalition, the Director of Political Training at The Leadership Institute, and a political science Adjunct Professor at American University (teaching The Modern Conservative Movement in US Politics: 1945-Present and Campaigns & Political Activism). He can be contacted at Christopher.Malagisi@gmail.com.