Wither the Youth Vote?

One the biggest surprises on Election Night was Bob McDonnell’s handy win over Creigh Deeds with the youth (18-29) vote–a full 10%. Pundits on the right quickly noted this. From the Weekly Standard:

McDonnell proved that a dynamic candidate with the right ideas, an active youth outreach program, and strategic use of new media technologies, Republican candidates can win the youth vote. The McDonnell campaign deserves credit for its text messaging program, the Young Professionals coalition that leveraged both fundraising and grassroots organizing, and the energy that his daughters brought to the election.The GOP needs to wake up and take note. Bob McDonnell did not invent a new way of campaigning. He was the right candidate with the right message who refused to cede Virginia’s youth to the Democrats and actually reached out to them. Republicans should take this week’s election results as a sign that the Grand Old Party still has a real opportunity to appeal to young voters.

Certainly that was great news. However, it must be pointed out that, in all likelihood, the same youth vote did not come out in 2005 that did in 2009, nor did they come out in the same numbers. In 2004 the youth vote made up 17% of the vote in Virginia; in 2008, it was 21%. In 2006 (the only other off year election I could find results for), they made up 12% of the vote. This year it was a meager 10%. Turnout amongst the bracket itself was 17% versus the 54% the year before–given the exit polls showing a strong R/conservative indy advantage, it would appear that youth voters just stayed home by and large. And with good reason, according to many on the left. From Future Majority:

He did youth outreach. I don’t know if Deeds did, but the consistent narrative around the Deeds campaign was that he wasn’t really for anything. The additional narrative I hear is that VA isn’t that Democratic.This doesn’t mean young voters have gone GOP, it means that when you put forth the effort to get young voters, you speak to their issues, and you get out the vote you get a good result. Further, when you don’t have a strong Democrat at the top of the ticket but you have a strong Republican at the top of the ticket those young Republicans or those young conservative voters turn out. From the numbers I’ve seen the students at Liberty University could have turned out and made the margin of victory for McDonnell.

So while we certainly should cheer this turnaround, it would appear that the youth vote, smaller than in previous years, more closely matched their older peers. That leaves us with the question of why youth 1) don’t turn out by and large and 2) why they tend to be liberal. And it’s not as if liberalism is a knee jerk response to being young. Indeed, the Richmond Times Dispatch that youth are perhaps those with the most to lose in the coming healthcare debate:

Comes now the House-passed health care “reform” bill that, amazingly, would extract more subsidies from the young. It mandates that health insurance premiums for older Americans be no more than twice the level of younger Americans. That’s much less than the actual health spending gap between young and old. Spending for those age 60-64 is four to five times greater than those 18-24. So, the young would overpay for insurance which — under the House bill — people must buy: 20and 30-somethings would subsidize premiums for 50and 60-somethings. (Those 65 and over receive Medicare.)


Although premium changes would apply mainly to people using insurance “exchanges,” the differences would be substantial. A single person 55-64 might save $3,490, estimates an Urban Institute study. By contrast, single people in their 20s and early 30s might pay from about $600 to $1,100 more. For the young, the extra cost might be larger, says economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Hudson Institute, because the House bill would require them to purchase fairly generous insurance plans rather than cheaper catastrophic coverage that might better suit their needs.
Whatever the added burden, it would darken the young’s already poor economic prospects. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds is 19 percent. Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, notes on his blog that high joblessness depresses young workers’ wages and that the adverse effect — though diminishing — “is still statistically significant 15 years later.” Lost wages over 20 years could total $100,000. Orszag doesn’t mention that health care “reform” might compound the loss.

So what to do? I think we’re on the right path with campaigns that offer positive solutions. Some would suggest moderation is the key. From our neighbors to the South in Raleigh:

The Republican Party grew rapidly in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in North Carolina by courting conservative Democrats.

But North Carolina has maintained the strongest Democratic Party in the South during the past decade by siphoning off moderate Starbucks Republicans.

As conservative British Prime Minister HaroldMcMillan (1957-63) once noted: “A successful party of the right must continue to recruit from the center and even from the left center. Once it begins to shrink into itself like a snail, it will be doomed.”

However, McDonnell showed this year that youth voters will buy into clear policies based on conservative principles when it hews to the voters writ large. The real test will be when the youth vote really shows up–can congressional Republicans such as the eventual nominee in the Fifth make crossroads in places like Albemarle County? Stay tuned.

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