Considerable attention was paid to a Zogby poll taken over the weekend, which showed the newly minted Romney-Ryan ticket pulling an impressive 41 percent support from voters aged 18 to 29, while Obama-Biden drew 49 percent. Obama won 66 percent support from young voters when he ran against John McCain in 2008.
Some of this surge for Romney among younger voters has been attributed to his youthful running mate, who is the first person from ???Generation X??? to appear on a major party ticket, and looks like he might come from a generation or two further down the alphabet. But this wasn???t the first poll to show Romney gaining support from young voters. Far less notice was given to a July 22 survey from the liberal PPP group that came up with exactly the same level of support for the two candidates among voters aged 18 to 29: 41 percent Romney, 49 percent Obama. Young voters in this survey disapproved of Obama???s performance in office by 57 to 37 percent, while 75 percent said the country was on the ???wrong track??? ??? a question often seen as an important measure of anti-incumbent sentiment by pollsters.
These younger voters have exceptionally good reasons to disapprove of Obama???s performance. Generation Opportunity, a conservative group that reaches out to ???millennial??? voters, notes that young people are looking at a substantially higher unemployment rate than the general population ??? 12.7 percent for ages 18-29, and that???s using the carefully adjusted numbers that allow the government to pretend general unemployment is only 8.3 percent. A good 1.7 million unemployed young adults aren???t been counted in those statistics at all, because they???ve completely abandoned the workforce.
But even realistic unemployment numbers wouldn???t tell the whole story, because the great under-reported secret of Obamanomics is the inexorable conversion of the U.S. work force to part-time employment. Part-time and temporary jobs make up a huge portion of the meager job growth Obama has managed, even as full-time jobs slip away. This is particularly rough on entry-level workers, who find themselves competing with more experienced applicants for positions that were formerly seen as the gateway to a stable career.
Young voters also tend to be (correctly) cynical about Big Government safety-net programs like Medicare and Social Security, which they know perfectly well aren???t going to exist in anything like their current form when the young workers currently paying for them are ready to retire, unless dramatic reforms are made. Some young people accept this with a shrug, but some are growing acutely aware that they find themselves on the wrong end of massive inter-generational wealth transfers. They???re also getting the idea that massive federal deficits are post-dated invoices that will arrive in their mailboxes a few years from now.
???Instead of aggressively embracing policies that liberate businesses to create more jobs, the President and his appointees have pursued an agenda that suffocates economic opportunity under the weight of more spending, higher debt, more regulations, and higher taxes,??? said Generation Opportunity president Paul Conway, after surveying the July unemployment figures. ???For young Americans, the message from their government is clear – we are not responsible if our destructive policy decisions eliminate your plans for full-time, meaningful jobs in a career path of your choice. Even worse, elected officials in Washington are proving themselves to be coldly distant from the human costs of unemployment, the personal stresses and frustrations that come from the uncertainty surrounding unemployment.???
How might Ryan fit into the Republicans??? outreach to young voters? Liberal columnist Kirsten Powers noted his appeal as Gen X???s ambassador to the ???screwed generation,??? an even younger cohort born into an exhausted nation whose best days are said to be behind it.
???Enter Ryan,??? writes Powers. ???While Democrats attack his Medicare plan as ???radical??? and portray him as pushing granny off the cliff, young people don???t seem to be buying this caricature. Or maybe ???radical??? is what they want.??? She describes Ryan as ???young and poised to be the intellectual leader of the conservative movement for the next generation.???
Powers borrows a phrase from writer Jeff Gordiner to characterize Generation X as having ???an abnormal and persistent fear of being forgotten or ignored.??? Well, millennial voters have an entirely rational fear of being abused by government programs that will self-destruct shortly after emptying their wallets, and destroying their career aspirations. The ???screwed generation??? knows how to crunch data, and they were born with access to the limitless memory of the Internet. They dislike being patronized. A little more time spent with Paul Ryan will convince them he has no intention of treating them like suckers, or asking them to ignore information that???s only a hyperlink away. They might not entirely agree with him, but they will appreciate the way he presents his case.
The real danger threatening Obama???s grip on young voters is that he can???t show the homework to back up anything he???s trying to sell them, and if they take a long look at his running mate, they???re going to burst out laughing. They’re not likely to be swayed by over-the-top Obama attack ads that play like parodies of a desperate bottom-feeding political campaign. Young people love sarcastic jokes, but they’re increasingly skeptical of voting for one.