Rock the Right: Free-market activists eye youth vote

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Younger Americans are growing more worried about their generation’s future prosperity, and a group of free-market activists have created a new advocacy group — Generation Opportunity — to boost their impact in public life

The campaign’s site on Facebook, “Being American,” was established by December, and has more than 540,000 likes, mostly from the increasing number of Americans aged 18 to 29 who are trying to pay off their share of the nation’s $1 trillion in college loans, get on a career track, get married or simply get out of their parents’ house in an stalled economy.

Those attitudes are outlined in a week-long April poll of 600 young people conducted for the group by Kellyanne Conway’s polling company. “People are more optimistic about their own future than the future of the nation,” Conway told TheDC. Their worries about economic trends refutes the cliche that they’re only worried about social issues, she said.

Seventy-six percent of the respondents wanted to see federal spending reduced, and 69 percent preferred spending cuts to greater taxes, she said. One in four of the respondents said they’ve had to delay paying students loans, get better training for work, changing jobs or moving cities, according to the survey, while six in 10 see the fast-growing national debt as a great threat to the nation’s long-term security.

That’s partly why almost 60 percent of younger people say they and their peers will pay more attention to politics prior to the 2012 election, she said.

Election data shows that people aged 18 to 30 are increasing their voting rate, said Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity. That increase will continue and will get more attention from politicians, he said.

“For both parties, if you want to stay in office, you need to be responsive to the generation which is being asked to pay for the long term costs” of current government policy, said Conway, who formerly worked as an acting manager for the federal program tasked with rebuilding the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina, and as chief of staff to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

“Anyone who dismisses an entire generation of intellectually savvy men and women will do so at their own political peril,” predicted pollster Kelleynnne Conway.

The advocacy effort comes as bad economic news continues to pour in. The unemployment rate of people actively seeking jobs is 9 percent, and the economy created only 38,000 new jobs in May, according to a payroll-management company, ADP, even though the working-age population increased as younger Americans and immigrants entered the workforce. Economic forecasters are scaling back their projections for economic growth in the second quarter of the year, from roughly 3.5 percent to 2.7 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal piece on forecasts by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank.

A May 19 report by a job-firm Adecco showed that roughly 60 percent of recent college grads have not been able to find a full-time job in their preferred area. One in five graduates have taken jobs far from their training, one in six are dependent on their parents, and one in four say they’re in debt, according to the firm’s data.

Other surveys shows shifting political concerns among younger voters.

A early 2010 poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics showed the two parties losing supporters are more people aged 18 to 29 identified themselves as independents, and showed incumbent President Barack Obama scored below-majority ratings for his record on health care, the economy, the deficit, Iran and Afghanistan. Overall, Obama’s ratings remained high at 56 percent, partly because 83 percent of younger African Americans and 69 percent of younger Hispanic Americans supported him, despite higher-than-average unemployment and poverty in those two communities. Obama’s overall rating among younger white Americans had dropped to 45 percent.

An informal 2011 survey of 500 graduates and post-graduates by Joe Maddalone, founder of Maddalone Global Strategies, showed that 83 percent voted for Obama in 2008, but only 27 percent were committed to voting for Obama again. The survey, said New York-based Maddalone, showed that 80 percent said they would consider voting for a Republican. “People have had time to reflect on how they voted in 2008, and now they’re thinking about whether they have a job or like their job,” he said. said. Their trust in government is shrinking, and so their attitude is shifting from “‘Yes, we can,’ to ‘Yes, I can,’” he said.

The 600 people in Kellyanne Conway’s week-long poll are “pretty fair-market,” she said.

Paul Conway’s Generation Opportunity can help interested people get the information they need to build their knowledge and views well before the 2012 election, said Conway. His site will provide information from many sources, including the left-of-center Huffington Post, the right-of-center Heritage Foundation, from government sites and from generational peers, he said. “We’re putting the information out there in the public domain,” via Facebook, e-mails, Twitter and YouTube, he said.

On YouTube, they’ll “interview national political leaders in a candid way,” he said, citing “The Colbert Report” as a example where complex issues can be communicated in a sophisticated way. “Underneath the humor in these [TV-comedy] shows, there’s an educational role [in which ] they’re very sophisticated,” Conway said.

The group also wants to help people get registered so they can influence politics. The long-standing Rock The Vote campaign has been labeled as a partisan advocacy group, but “it is a fundamentally a good thing when people stand up and tell people they should vote,” he said.

Conway declined to identify his donors. His group is a 501(C)(4), and like many other such groups, is under no legal obligation to release the names of his donors.

“We think that federal spending is too high, the rate of growth in government is too high, and that money is best left with and managed by those who earn it,” said Conway.

Neil Munro