Thursday, April 26, 2012

Young Voters, Obama, Romney, And Paul

Will young American voters be as enthusiastic about Election 2012 as they were about Election 2008? So far, across the country, the 2012 youth vote is down. Registration is low. Voter enthusiasm for candidates has been lackluster.
Obama received a blowout 66% of the national vote among the 18-29 year old age group in 2008 compared to McCain's 33% of that vote. 18 percent of the 2008 electorate was made of the 18-29 year old age group, which is only one or two percent higher than in previous presidential election years - Obama just got an unusually large part of the vote from young voters.

President Obama Speaks on
Student Loan Interest Rates in Iowa - April 25, 2012
Obama even won the youth vote in many Republican states like Texas, where he won 54% of the vote.

The youth also voted 63% for House Democrats in 2008 -- Young voters not only voted for Obama at the top of the ballot, they also voted down ballot or straight ticket by a high margin for other Democratic candidates.

2012 polls vary widely, but a new Harvard Poll says Pres. Obama has a 17-point lead -- still a worrisome number for Democrats.

The poll was released just as Pres. Obama is discussing education and student loan debt at three college campuses in swing states, including the University of North Carolina and the University of Iowa.

The Harvard Institute of Politics poll (PDF) finds that over the last four months, the president picked up six points against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, among young voters. Obama now leads Romney among 18-to-29-year-olds by 17 points.

The poll finds the president struggling a bit with young white voters as compared with four years ago.And here are some more selected top line data points from the poll of more than 3,000 (5 percent of whom live in New England), which was conducted March 23 to April 9 and has a margin of error of 1.7 percent:
  • Of those polled, 37 percent said they’re Democrats, 24 percent said Republican and 38 percent said independent/middle of the road.
  • Obama’s approval rating is 52 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval. But on the economy, his rating is 41 percent approval, 58 percent disapproval.
  • The economy is the most important issue to 58 percent of those polled.
  • Thirty-nine percent of those polled agree that cutting taxes is an effective way to increase economic growth, compared to 21 percent who disagree.
  • Twenty percent agree that government spending is an effective way to increase economic growth, compared to 32 percent who disagree.
  • Ten percent said they support the Tea Party, and 17 percent said they support the Occupy movement.
  • Seventy-nine percent said they don’t consider themselves politically active.
  • Sixty-four percent said they’d definitely or probably vote in the 2012 presidential election.
  • Twenty-five percent said homosexuality is morally wrong, compared to 42 percent who said it is not morally wrong.
The youth have long had a thing for 12-term Texas congressman Ron Paul. In 2008, Paul’s volunteers in Des Moines were almost exclusively scraggly out-of-town college types who slept at a YMCA camp and were given three rules, “No drugs, no booze, and no freedom babies." In the primary contests of 2012, Paul again dominated the field of Republicans among those under 30, and drew far more lopsided support from young men than any of the other candidates.

The notion that this year’s election is a choice between civil liberties (in the form of Paul) and the tyranny of government meddling in social liberty issues (in the form of any other Republican candidate) encapsulated Paul’s grand appeal to men in their late teens and 20s: He traffics in absolutes. Political scientists point out that age and newness to politics predispose young voters to a less nuanced view of the political world. They’re less likely to take the long view, less likely to have patience, less likely to look deeper in a candidate's background and less likely to spin out the implications of their political theories.

Paul is for these young novice voters less a politician than a wise professor who has, through decades of research, gradually honed in on the simple concepts that initially attract young novice political activists.
The young tend to be “more interested in simpler, more abstract and pure philosophies,” says Peter Levine, who directs Tufts University’s Circle Research center, which studies young people’s civic participation. They are less likely to have developed the kind of partisan affiliation that older voters filter their news through, so they’re more reactive, more influenced by events of the moment, political scientists say. And this hasn’t just benefited Paul—in 2008, college-aged voters swooned for Barack Obama in part because they’d spent adolescence under President Bush, who was supremely loathed by the time the last election rolled around.

“Candidates these days are essentially sold like soap,” and young people in particular tend to think of them “the way they think of any other product,” says Dan Cassino, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University, who with his sociologist wife conducted focus groups and surveys to develop this theory in the run-up to the 2008 election. “If I tell somebody I support Romney, what in the world do you know about me?” Cassino says. But just as Obama’s brand in 2008 signified hope and change, ... Paul’s brand has its own powerful symbolism, which is not so much about specific products as it is about ideas. [Slate]
Certainly Paul offers ideas that resonate with younger men, who often have more progressive attitudes on most issues. The media sometimes refers to that resonance as a progressive man-crush on the libertarian Republican. Paul’s popularity among America’s youth is perhaps not a surprise. Questioning authority, opposition to military engagements abroad, opposition to government intrusion into personal freedoms, opposition to the war on drugs, and “legalizing certain drugs” are defining themes of his political persona. Paul also says the government should have no role in keeping gay people from marrying, and he opposes plans to institute a national ID card as part of immigration reform.

Young people are much more tolerant on the broad range of social issues than older voters. Many young first time political activists, who might otherwise be called "progressives," are initially attracted to Ron Paul because many of his policy positions state that government has no business implementing laws that mandate or forbid certain personal choices or behaviors.

Most young voters don't initially find out that Ron Paul would eliminate public funding support for education at every level - including college loans and Pell Grants.

For most novice political activists, who have more in common with the Democrats than Republicans, the blinders of youthful idealism and exuberance begin to fall away as they learn about Paul's darker side:
Paul’s progressive fans can not long overlook his signing of the "personhood pledge," which could ban many birth control methods? Paul would overturn Roe and let states make their own laws regulating women’s bodies, up to and including prosecuting abortion and even some naturally occurring miscarriages as murder.
Add in Paul's opposition to basic civil rights law — he maintains his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and opposes restrictions on the “freedom” of business owners to refuse service to blacks — and his hostility to the federal government starts looking more and more like old-fashioned Southern-style states’ rights.

No wonder they love him over at Stormfront, a white-supremacist website with neo-Nazi tendencies. In a multiple-choice poll of possible effects of a Paul presidency, the most popular answer by far was “Paul will implement reforms that increase liberty which will indirectly benefit White Nationalists.” And let’s not forget his other unsavory fan base, Christian extremists who want to execute gays, adulterers and “insubordinate children.”

Paul’s many connections with the Reconstructionist movement, going back decades, are laid out on AlterNet by Adele Stan, who sees him as a faux libertarian whose real agenda is not individualism but to prevent the federal government from restraining the darker impulses at work at the state and local levels. [The Nation]
Politically savvy Democratic candidates will make every effort to help those young progressive-leaning political novices, who were initially deceived by Paul's cleverly honed progressive-like libertarian messaging, find a permanent home in their campaigns and the Democratic Party. The Obama Campaign certainly is not ignoring this segment of the youth vote.

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