Political scientists often analyze the youth vote in order to spot possible future political trends. Having very recently aged out of this 18- to 29-year-old demographic (“millennial voters,” as they’re called), I believe I understand fairly well how many in the rising generation feel, and why they vote the way they do.
Of course, when speaking of millions of people in this way, one can only draw general conclusions that are riddled with exceptions. Still, trends do exist and point to underlying motives for why so many youth support a certain candidate or issue.
Four years ago, this voting segment overwhelming chose Obama over McCain in the general election, flocking to a candidate who railed against the secrecy, torture, tyranny, and moral bankruptcy of the Bush administration’s foreign policy and attacks on civil liberties. They were offered “change” and bought into it, recognizing that McCain was openly advocating a continuation of Bush’s policies, and not foreseeing that Obama would basically do the same once in office.
Yet that’s exactly what Obama has done, violating his promises to end the wars and stop torture, instead advancing the Bush doctrine he criticized while taking it 10 steps further by unilaterally assassinating American citizens and embracing new powers to indefinitely detain others. Persistent unemployment, endless and increased warfare, bailouts and stimuli compounding upon one another, and a staggering reversal on many of Obama’s important promises of “change” have led many young voters to look elsewhere. While he claims to be “inspired” by the youth who swept him into office, many of those former supporters are now looking elsewhere to find real and lasting change.
Three-quarters of youth voters want federal spending reduced; the rising generation would like to keep their paychecks and not be endlessly taxed to fund programs and policies that are flawed and doomed to fail. They’re sick of bailing out banks, subsidizing businesses, and paying into an entitlement system that will implode before they are old enough to use it themselves.
A majority of young voters want the wars to end, and the anti-war candidate they previously supported has only perpetuated and increased them. They are the ones being split apart from their families to live and die half a world away for a cause they neither understand nor believe in. Young Americans have their lives ahead of them, and are sick of seeing friends and family buried six feet underground prematurely. They want peace, and war only when necessary. They want to sacrifice neither life nor limb for oil, war profiteering, and a neo-imperialistic foreign policy.
Young voters want to be left alone, free from Internet censorship, business regulation, a failed war on drugs, and a nanny state presuming to protect them from themselves. They want the government to mind its own business while leaving them free to worry about theirs. Young voters recently left the care and oversight of their parents — they don’t want the government to simply replace that role and keep them in a state of juvenile subservience.
The rising generation has been witness to the past decade of fearmongering and lies from both major parties, and has thus become increasingly independent and libertarian in response to such rampant corruption and hypocrisy. They fail to find much consistency and principled leadership in the halls of government, and therefore develop strong anti-government undertones in their political ideology. Young voters tend to know a liar when they see one — and they see them often.
All of this and more can perhaps begin to explain why the oldest man running for the office of president is garnering such strong support from the youngest of voters. Ron Paul is the only candidate who has offered a plan to substantially reduce spending, by $1 trillion in the first year. He’s the only one advocating that the troops come home and the wars be stopped, much to the delight of many of the young people living and fighting overseas. He wants to get government out of both the bedroom and the boardroom, reducing its size and scope to a relatively small, constitutional footprint. And in Ron Paul, young voters see three decades of consistency, an adherence to principle, and even if they disagree with him on a few issues, they sense that he can be trusted.
To be sure, a very large number of young voters support other candidates, including the incumbent, Barack Obama. The youth vote is slipping away from his grasp, however, with only 49% approving of his presidency, down 23 points from February 2009. As the issues important to young Americans consolidate into firm political opinions and then into voting behavior, it is likely that an increasingly disproportional percentage will favor Ron Paul in contrast to the other pro-war, interventionist, big-government candidates, including the incumbent. If denied the nomination, Ron Paul’s young base will likely either stay home or support a third-party candidacy; they’re willing to apply their idealism to make the status quo suffer, even if just a little. (Most pundits recognize, though, that this voting behavior in the aggregate would be very detrimental to the GOP’s electoral chances.)
Candidate Barack Obama knew what many young voters wanted, and he spoke their language: the rule of law, the end of unjust wars, and a respect for the civil liberties that had steadily been eroded by the Bush administration since 9/11. While he has done an about-face on those issues, they are issues that are still (if not more) important than they were four years ago. Candidates for the 2012 presidential election would be wise to sincerely modify their positions as necessary to gain the support of the demographic whose blood and treasure is so often wasted when the status quo carries the day.
Put simply, young people yearn for the freedom to determine their own futures. Unfortunately, few politicians seem willing to afford them the luxury.
Trey Grayson, the director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, wisely commented on the youth vote as follows: “Those campaigns that don’t adapt to what the millennial generation wants to see in candidates are going to have a hard time winning.”
He should know. He lost in the 2010 Republican primary to now-Senator Rand Paul, who won the youth vote.
Connor Boyack is director of the Utah Tenth Amendment Center and author of Latter-day Liberty: A Gospel Approach to Government and Politics.