September 25 2012
Richmond Times Dispatch
The Democratic National Convention included speakers such as recent Georgetown Law School graduate Sandra Fluke, actress Eva Longoria and actor Kal Penn, all designed to convince young people that the Obama administration is still cool and to motivate young people to vote for Obama.
The youth vote is supposed to be a lost cause for Mitt Romney. Yet new analysis suggests that Millennials are open to persuasion, so it is no surprise that the Obama campaign is working overtime to try to hold on to young voters.
For the first time, a poll in August found that Romney has the support of more than 40 percent of those 18 to 29 years old. Crossing 40 percent might not seem like much of a reason to celebrate, but keep in mind that Obama won the youth vote 2-to-1 in 2008.
Why the shift? Young voters are facing a tough economy, which is making them rethink how economic policies impact their job prospects and life decisions.
At the Republican National Convention, Romney and Paul Ryan offered a vision of economic freedom, opportunity and prosperity that young voters, weary from the tough economy and disappointed with the unfulfilled promises of the Obama administration, were eager to hear. One of the most repeated lines of the convention came from Ryan: "College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."
This is reality for many Millennials. Each month seems to bring more bad news for young people. A study earlier this year showed that 53.6 percent of people under age 25 with a bachelor's degree — about 1.5 million people — were unemployed or underemployed, the highest percentage in more than a decade. The summer jobs reports confirm that approximately one in eight Americans age 18 to 29 is unemployed.
What does this unemployment mean for young Americans' lives?
One survey found that 84 percent of young adults had delayed or plan to delay a major life change, such as buying their own place, getting married or starting a family, because of the weak economy. The Census Bureau reports that the number of adult children living with their parents increased by 1.2 million between 2007 and 2010.
These are tough numbers, and they translate into a lot of true hardship for young Americans eager to start careers and independent lives. Unsurprisingly, these realities also are affecting the issues young voters are considering in the run-up to the November election. A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll confirmed that job creation is the top-ranked issue for 18- to 29-year-olds.
Rising support for Romney suggests many are starting to make the connection between their own job prospects and national economic policy — and that they are ready for a different national approach.
Even those not focused on our economic policies might be giving Romney's ticket a second look because of his pick for vice president. Young people in 2008 were attracted to Obama largely because of his personal story and charisma. Romney has struggled in this area, but his selection of 42-year-old "young gun" Ryan as his running mate might be a game changer for Millennials.
As the first Generation Xer on a major party presidential ticket, Ryan appeals to young people because he embodies energetic youth — he is in better shape than lots of Millennials, leading intense P90X workout sessions on the Hill. He walks the halls of Congress with earphones in, reportedly listening to Rage Against the Machine and Led Zeppelin. And he grew up as a hardworking Midwesterner, even holding a summer job driving the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.
Ryan also appeals to young people for the same reason Obama did — he optimistically presents a bold vision for how to fundamentally change Washington. Like Obama in 2008, Ryan stands in sharp contrast to the status quo and promises to confront issues that older politicians have avoided as too politically dangerous.
Indeed, four years is a long time to keep a poster on the wall. To keep the youth vote, President Obama is going to have to do more than just convince young voters that those Obama posters are still cool. He has to demonstrate that he has a positive plan for improving their economic prospects.
Karin Agness is the founder of the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW) and a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. She earned her undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Virginia.