Why is Ron Paul so appealing to younger voters?

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Texas Congressman Ron Paul is 76 years old, yet the demographic from which he attracts the most amount of support is voters less than half his age. Just what do young voters find so appealing about Paul?

In the latest Gallup results broken down by age of respondents, Paul does disproportionately well with voters aged 18-34, being the preferred choice of 20 percent of that demographic nationally, statistically tied with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 19 percent. But with older demographics Paul barely registers, being supported by 8 percent of the 35-54-year-olds, and 4 percent among those over age 55.

“It’s a conundrum,” Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup polling, told The Daily Caller.

“We know that in general American[s] 18-29 (across all party lines) are less negative towards big government and government power than those who are older. Yet Republican[s] 18-29 and 18-34 are disproportionately Paul supporters,” he said. “We don’t have data on the views of government of just Republican[s] 18-29 (sample size limitations), and it is possible that they may diverge in their views of big government from non-Republican young voters.”

The Millennials poll, conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics, which surveys the 18-29-year-old crowd, found Paul in a solid second place behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Romney took 25 percent, and Paul took 18 percent, putting him in a statistical tie with Gingrich at 17 percent.

Trey Grayson, the director of Harvard IOP — who incidentally ran unsuccessfully against Paul’s son, Rand Paul, in the most recent Kentucky Senate Republican primary — suggested that much of the appeal of Ron Paul is that he is perceived as a Washington outsider.

“The fact is, if you’re mad about Washington … this is the guy who is the most outside of all the candidates who are running. I mean, yeah, he’s a member of Congress, but … he doesn’t look like a Washington politician, he doesn’t act like a politician, and so I think when you look at the polling data for the Millennials, where they don’t like the president, they don’t like Congress, so there’s that element of it,” Grayson said.

Mike Devanney, a Republican strategist, echoed that view, calling Paul “a bit of a counter-cultural figure.”

“He doesn’t usually fit into that Republican ideological box, and young people are regularly idealistic and look for things that are different, and, certainly, his political phenomenon is different,” Devanney added.

“Maybe it’s the rebel in him,” joked Republican consultant Jim Dyke.

Another aspect of Paul’s appeal is “the straight talk,” suggested Grayson. “He does exactly what he believes. He’s pretty consistent philosophically.”

“No caveats, no nuances, no ‘it depends’ — purity of beliefs is always a hit among young people,” echoed Republican political consultant Dan Hazelwood. “They want to be in the vanguard of the revolution. It’s why students on the left rallied to candidate Obama in ’08, and on the right they rally to Ron Paul. Also, in Ron Paul’s case, its hip to be for the square, grumpy old dude because he is an anti-establishment conservative.”

“I’ve noticed about the folks who are big supporters of Ron Paul, they feel like they’re part of a cause, they feel like they’re part of something greater than just backing a simple candidate,” Grayson observed. “In many ways, that’s somewhat similar to Obama in ‘08.”

“This is a cause; it’s a calling for them, in a way that Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry — none of them have that. And I think for the millennial generation that’s a big deal — making them feel like they’re part of something bigger. Obama captured it in ‘08, Paul might do it in ’12,” Grayson predicted.

Currently, Paul is in first place in Iowa, the site of the first caucus of the primary season, according to Public Policy Polling. In part, the poll suggests, that’s because of his support among young voters, 38 percent of whom say they favor him. His nearest competitor in that demographic is Gingrich, at just 16 percent.

John Della Volpe, Harvard IOP polling director, said that focus groups held in Iowa found a “passion for Ron Paul among Republicans but also on the left.” He suggested that some people on the left who were disappointed with President Obama’s first term might give Paul a look.

With that said, he cautioned, the support is not entirely organic. Paul has been running ads on TV and campaigned there significantly over the past few years, so voters in Iowa “have gotten the chance to listen to him and see him.”

Moreover, Grayson said, the Paul campaign also appears to have some of the best campus outreach operations to college students of any of the candidates. He said that the Paul campaign had one of the first liaisons to the Harvard Republican Club. When he was running in Kentucky, Grayson recalled, he noticed that “there were liberty groups on campus that were pretty engaged and fired up, and they were for Ron Paul.”

Additionally, Campaign for Liberty, the organization that Paul started, “puts on spring breaks, and people go learn how to be activists and campaign,” Grayson noted.

Grayson pointed out that while older voters could be turned off by Paul’s determination to stop all the wars in which the U.S. is engaged, younger voters tend to be less hawkish on foreign policy, and much more amenable to the idea of bringing home the troops. They’re also the generation that has to “bear the brunt of these wars,” Grayson said, which has left some with a sour taste in their mouth.

The problem for Paul, many of the strategists pointed out, is the demographic of younger voters is one of the lowest voting demographics, meaning that come primary day, his supporters may not come out to vote for him.

Based on “intensity,” Stutts said, he suspected “a large amount… will [turn out].” But history, he added, referencing the Howard Dean youth movement of 2004, “tells me… they didn’t.”

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