2010’s teachable moment on the youth vote

Melissa Jane Kronfeld Freelance Writer
Font Size:

Much more then a civics lesson in how politics should be defined by the will of the people (“With all due respect, it’s not the Kennedy’s seat, it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat), and far more then a strategic lesson in what to do (driving around in a high-mileage, all-American truck) versus what not to do (insult a local all American Major League Baseball pitcher) in a political campaign, the recent electoral victory of Scott Brown over Marcia Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race also provides an important, “teachable moment” for Republicans about young voters, across the nation.

Namely, it does not matter how strongly entrenched the institutionalization of liberalism might be, conservatism will have its day.

Just like the great state of Massachusetts, college campuses across America have a strong and unapologetic liberal tradition, where family legacy is honored regardless of its usefulness and those with the farthest left leaning views are bestowed with “tenured” seats of power, whether they are in halls lined with classrooms or just ones with Congressional offices.

According to a 2005 study conducted by the Randolph Foundation and published in the online political science journal Forum, 72 percent of college professors report liberal inclinations while 50 percent claim affiliation with the Democrats. The more shocking statistics though, are the mere 15 percent of college professors who tend toward a conservative view and the even more miniscule 11 percent who admitted being Republicans.

In fact, one of the authors of the study, went as far as to tell the Washington Post that it appeared to him, “being conservative counts against you” in the world of academia.

The Young Democrats of America (YDA) proclaim on their Web site, “Young voters’ overwhelming preference for the Democratic Party is an ongoing trend, not a fluke… Young voters are trending Democratic. Young people are identifying as Democrats, supporting the party’s issues, and casting ballots for Democratic candidates at the polls.”

In fact, the YDA purports that Democrats have a 19-point advantage in party identification with young voters across the United States; 47 percent of 18-29 year-olds identify as Democrats (a 7 percent increase since 2006), while only 28 percent identify as Republicans.

It would appear then, as no surprise to even the most casual observer, that when called to the polls by the then one-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the youth voted in his favor on an unprecedented scale. But given the rate of liberal inclination and Democratic party-affiliation in our nation’s institutions of higher learning, it no longer appears to be a matter of choice for collegiate students when deciding between becoming a Democrat or Republican in today’s day and age.

Simply put, when young Americans reach the tender voting age of 18, typically around the same time they begin attending college, the Democratic platform is the only ideological prism through which their education can and is being experienced. As they venture into the world for the very first time and begin to shape their views about, it’s the radicalized college professor (as some have portrayed Obama to have once been at Harvard) that are guiding, shaping and molding the great minds of the next generation.

With the glaring exception of former George W. Bush White House counsel John Yoo (the author of the notorious “torture memos”) at Berkley University in California, where are the conservatives on campus? And can Republicans expect to reach young voters without them?

It seems that finding strong Republican voices and opinions on America’s college campuses is as hard as trying to find a student who is not drinking Starbucks or who is not surviving on Domino’s pizza alone.

But hope is not lost.

Despite this deeply rooted tradition of liberalism, college campuses across the nation also have a deeply rooted tradition of being a force for transformation. Whether shut down by protests against the war in Vietnam or in support of racial integration, or whether student marches have merely interrupted the flow of daily operations in defense of their right to free expression, in the promotion of lowered tuition costs or in the prevention of a particularly inflammatory guest speaker on campus, America’s colleges and universities are vehicles for agitating social change.

So why shouldn’t the conservative movement not capitalize on this trend?

Republicans can build their young conservative voting base by opening direct channels of communication between college kids and the Republican part so that students find an alternative voice that entices them to contribute to the conservative cause instead of an adversarial voice that makes it too difficult or intimidating for new conservatives to be heard.

And, unfortunately, the best avenue for communication may no longer through the ever-shrinking, tie and blazer-clad local Young Republican outfits, drinking wine and noshing on cheese and crackers at campus get-togethers. Republicans need to energize the young voting base by targeting them where it counts: reaching out directly to the students themselves, through their never-too-far-away computers and cell phones which provide them with perpetual access to the world of online social media.

More and more Republican congressmen and senators are using the same social media tools that college students simply cannot live without, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And this makes them ever more accessible to the next generation of independent thinking conservatives and possibly, future registered Republicans.

In a recent report, “Twongess: the Power of Twitter in Congress,” it was revealed that twice as many Republicans as Democrats are on the popular social networking site. Does that mean the Republican message resonates any louder online?

Maybe, maybe not. It is hard to say when President Obama endless speeches, press conferences and commercials dominate the twenty-four hour television news cycle.

But what it does mean is that there are a plethora of Republican voices easily accessible to one of the fastest growing, non-Republican voter demographics in the United States, specifically young adults ages 18-29.

According to the Pew study on “Social Media and Young Adults,” 93 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are online, 72 percent of whom are using social networking websites. Pew notes, “Over the past ten years, teens and young adults have been consistently the two groups most likely to go online, even as the Internet population has grown older.”

And specifically, for this age group, Twitter is the way to go. Pew reports, that 18-29 years-olds “lead the way when it comes to using Twitter or status updating;” one-third of them post or read status updates regularly.

So what does all this have to do with a Scott Brown “teachable moment?”

Unlike with the election of Obama, young voters did not sweep Brown into the Senate; Rassumussen reports that 15 percent of Massachusetts residents ages 18-29 voted, and almost 90 percent voted for Coakley. But the way in which Brown went about winning the election says a lot about how the Republican Party can grow their base, particularly among the young adult voting block, for the upcoming 2010 elections.

As one blog headline put it, the Scott Brown campaign was “social media gold,” and the numbers prove it. In a study released at the end of January by the Emerging Media Research Council, the Brown campaign’s use of online social networking tools far exceeded that of the Coakley camp.

By the end of the campaign, Brown had more then double the Facebook posts and five times as many Facebook fans as Coakley. The two candidates had approximately the same amount of Twitter tweets (Brown, 142; Coakley 144), but Brown had nearly three times as many followers. And despite posting a little more then 50 videos each on their respective YouTube Channels, Brown had almost 600,000 views while Coakley barely registered above 50,000.

At this moment in time, a confluence of factors seems to be favoring a new Republican movement. Beyond the [resident’s flagrant failures and the growing strength of the Tea Party movement other smaller, lest obvious occurrences are reminding voters about what conservatism really means for the country as a whole.

There has never been a better place for Republicans to reach out to young voters then through the Internet. And there has never been a time better then the present to start young voters thinking about how they can contribute to making their futures a better place by joining the Republican Party faithful in the November.

Melissa Jane Kronfeld was a reporter with the New York Post from 2005-2009. A graduate of New York University and George Washington University, she lives in New York City, where she writes about politics and international relations.