So much has been written about the youth vote in the last week as the President has been on his college tour talking about more affordable higher education - so I'm writing to set the record straight on what the deal is with young voters this election.
Bless his heart, Mitt Romney has tried to keep up by hosting his own youth focused conference call where he apparently spent most of the call bashing the Obama Administration but offering no solutions of his own. The call also seemed to be designed to push out his fancy infographic that outlines how bad things are for young people and implies the Obama Administration is at fault for the plight of youth.
"So, if Obama was so bad, what would a Romney presidency do instead? The septuagenarian Brown, joined on the call by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) and College Republican National Committee Chairman Alex Schriver, didn’t really have much to offer.Of all demographics, young people have supported the President and continue to support the President. They overwhelmingly supported the Affordable Care Act, they supported withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, they celebrated in the streets when Bin Ladan was killed, and they see his attempts at progress on the economy.
First, Romney’s surrogates downplayed the importance of issues that directly affect young people. Schock criticized Obama for his "focus on student loan and student debt," saying the real issue young people care about is jobs. Brown, meanwhile, attacked Obama for not reforming entitlement programs, saying young people should worry about their solvency in the future."
What they also see is the overthrow of the Republican Party by the more extremist faction that holds the antithesis of the what Millennial voters believe. Whether its their resistance to use government as a tool for good, the culture wars, complicated examples of racism, Fox News, and so many more, Romney's biggest hurdle with young voters will be his own party. Indeed, his biggest hurdle with most independent and moderate voters will be in running away from his own party.
The fact that young people have suddenly become the demographic de jour, however, is encouraging. Up until this point you haven't seen the GOP do a lot of youth outreach because Millennial voters aren't Republican Primary voters. This was a contrast to the Democratic Primaries in 2008 where the campaign was going on for two years and young voters were made priority number one when the Obama campaign targeted them for the Iowa Caucuses.
I mentioned this all in my interview with Minnesota Public Radio a few weeks ago.
So the GOP commentary that there is something wrong because young voters aren't as enthusiastic isn't including the whole story. If the Obama campaign had been doing the same amount of campaign work starting in 2011 that they did in 2007 - you'd see a different story. But re-election campaigns are different than first elections, especially when there is a competitive primary as there was in the 2008 election. The reason the competitive primary didn't work for the GOP is the candidates only highlighted the fracture within the Republican Party, where with Democrats the candidates were in agreement on most issues - it was more about the history, experience, or specific pet projects each candidate was running on.
This all is to say that the youth vote isn't up for grabs. It's going to go Democrat, but what remains to be seen is if that demographic will come out to the polls with the force and power that they did in 2008. Young voters didn't just vote - they got their parents, grandparents, and friends to vote. They volunteered in large numbers, they knocked doors, they made calls, and their votes extended well beyond the single vote they could give the president.
My good friend Jefferson Smith who is a great youth advocate (and now running for Mayor in Portland) always says that the thing more priceless than cash or votes is time. And young people gave a lot of their time to the President in 2008. They won't do that for Mitt Romney.
So what you're seeing the GOP do is try and put as many barriers in the way of young people. Whether that's the Voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise young voters or if the Romney campaign can successfully convince young people that the President doesn't care about their needs so they aren't enthusiastic enough to help the campaign - that's the only way he'll chip away at the power of the youth vote. In my professional opinion, he'll never win them over enough to vote for him in large enough number to make a difference - all he can do is depress the turnout and the enthusiasm.
The one thing that is raising the interest and enthusiasm of the political process among young voters that are likely Obama supporters is the Colbert Super PAC. Stephen Colbert has tapped into a large contingent of our population that is frustrated with the political process and the power that Super PACs now have on our elections. That enthusiasm will directly benefit the President and give him quote the Colbert Bump. And if the Super PAC's treasure hunt happens to end in a swing state like Ohio, Pennsylvania, or North Carolina then he could have something that really impacts the election. Another "Rally for Sanity/Fear" in Washington DC isn't going to change any minds or influence any votes ... because it's Washington... A swing state or a few swing states, and you've got something.
Here is Stephen talking about the youth vote last night on the Colbert Report:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Barack Obama's Slow Jam Backlash|
"Both presidential candidates have been making cheap attempts to pander to the youth, which merely comes off as fake, or "whack." They're too little, too late, while Colbert Super PAC is neither little nor late -- we're large and now. And with a thousand unaffiliated Super PAC tentacles stretching to colleges across this land, my power (like your student loan debts) will only grow. "
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