Recent polls show President Obama’s popularity plummeting among young voters. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in November shows that Obama’s approval rating among 18-29 years olds has fallen to a staggering 36 percent. This stunning drop among a demographic that gave Obama 66 percent of their vote in 2008, helping him coast to the presidency, has conservatives in a triumphant mood.
In light of these polling results many conservatives have concluded that young voters have finally witnessed the dangers of big government liberalism first-hand, and are now rethinking their allegiance to the Democratic Party.
But this rosy reading of polls is a mistake. A mistake that conservatives have made before.
In 2011, there was a similar, if less pronounced drop in support for Obama among young voters. Many Conservatives were convi
Yet, Obama ended up winning 60 percent of the 18-29 demographic. It was a slight drop from his 2008 numbers, but still a historically dominant performance.
The discrepancy between Obama’s 2011 approval ratings and his ultimate margin of victory among young voters in 2012 proves that Republicans miscalculated.
Their primary mistake was assuming that young voters make decisions based on the same value system as more mature adults. Republican analysts incorrectly assumed that young voters have their own long term interests in mind when making voting decisions.
The theory was that dissatisfaction with the economic performance of Obama’s first term was leading Millennials to wake up and realize that they were going to be the ones that had to pay for all of the new entitlement spending that Obama was racking up. When Obama’s poll numbers dropped in 2011, that’s exactly what the conservative political class assumed was happening.
But that’s not what was happening at all.
Young voters were indeed upset about the economy, but unlike conservatives they did not necessarily associate that stagnation with liberal policies. In fact, they didn’t even necessarily blame Obama, as Obama had made a daily habit out of blaming George W. Bush for the financial crisis.
Large numbers of modern young people are either living paycheck-to-paycheck and eating ramen dinners while struggling to build a career, or relying on their parents to put them through college. Individuals in either situation see little or no reason to spend time thinking about what their economic status might be 20 years down the road. So issues like the national debt and the new entitlement burdens that will be dumped upon them when their baby boomer parents retire are highly unlikely to take precedence over what’s going on in their lives at that moment.
Similarly, their recent disapproval of Obama is likely due to the same factors that have led the rest of the nation to sour on his presidency. This includes widespread disapproval of government domestic spying, the broken Obamacare website and the fact that millions of Americans have lost their health insurance, despite Obama’s repeated promises that they would not.
A loss of trust will erode any president’s popularity. However, these egregious mistakes are unlikely to translate into a widespread change in young people’s clear preference for activist government. They simply want their activist government to be more competent.
Conservatives’ second mistake was assuming that young voters would view the GOP as a reasonable alternative to Obama and the Democrats.
In general, young people are among the least engaged and politically knowledgeable of all voters. As a result, when election time rolls around they tend to put heightened importance on easy-to-understand wedge issues like women’s issues, gay rights and broad concepts like “fairness.” Democrats know this and have successfully used these issues to vilify the GOP. Young voters were no longer infatuated with Obama or his sub par economic record, but to them he was still better than the GOP alternative.
Unlike scandals such as NSA spying or the dysfunctional Obamacare website, these wedge issues are not going to disappear from the national conversation anytime soon. The Democrats will use them again and again in election after election and there’s no reason to believe that they will have any less salience with the youth demographic in 2016 than they did in 2012, when there was no shortage of consequential economic issues onto he table.
Additionally, assuming that the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton, chances are that idealistic young voters will once again want to make a “historic” choice as they did in 2008. The very idea of a woman in the White House may be enough for Clinton to rack up Obama-like numbers among youth voters.
It is also important to remember that the 18 to 29 demographic turns over completely every decade or so. So while 2016 voters in their 30’s may have learned their lesson, Democrats will have an entirely new crop of fresh-faced youngsters who haven’t heard their lies before.
The one hope that Republicans have for attracting youth voters in 2016 is the younger generation’s penchant for choosing style over substance. Mitt Romney had no chance to compete with Barack Obama when it came to personal appeal and likeability. However, Hillary Clinton lacks both. If the GOP can field a charismatic candidate three years from now, it might blunt the Democrats’ natural advantages with young people.
Without an inspirational, Obama-like candidate on the Republican side, chances are that young voters will fall right back into the Democratic camp come election 2016 no matter how fed up they may be with Obama at the time.
Dan Joseph is a video reporter for the Media Research Center and CNS News.com. He is author of the book Generation Right: The Young Conservative in the Age of Obama which examines why young voters are liberal and how they became infatuated with Barack Obama. Follow him on Twitter @danjoseph78