One of the keys to President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign was his ability to capture the imagination and galvanize the passion of young voters. However, the president has already recognized that his current political image is not nearly as “cool” as it was three years ago. Even though the president’s poll numbers have dropped among young people, his GOP rivals have had a hard time making inroads into the youth vote; that is, with the exception of one candidate — Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Paul is no doubt the Don Quixote of the race. He has electrified the youth in a way no Republican candidate has managed in quite a while. His relatively small, but ardently committed base is composed mostly of voters under the age of 29. Paul's views on American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, support for smaller government, and his willingness to challenge political sacred cows like Social Security or the Federal Reserve endear him to a significant number of young voters.
Assuming Paul doesn’t win the nomination, pundits must be pondering the fate of his supporters. And, for that matter, what will be the fate of young voters in general? Without the presence of Paul or the 2008 version of Obama to inspire them to vote in the upcoming race, most young voters will probably just sit this one out.
When Paul lost the nomination in 2008, McCain failed to win any substantial support from young Paulites. Currently, the race for next year’s Republican nomination seems to be narrowing to a battle between Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney. While Perry and Romney have some of the credentials and beliefs that would theoretically endear them to Paul's supporters, neither of whom do especially well with young Tea-Party or small-government conservatives.
Obama has had a similar result in his efforts to attract young voters. For many reasons, young voters don’t believe he has brought about the change he promised. Now, Obama is having a hard time recapturing the magic he so ardently displayed four years ago.
Unfortunately for youth voters, the candidates in the 2012 election will not be nearly as compelling as in 2008. If the prevailing political atmosphere continues to resonate through next year, we can expect neither Obama nor the eventual GOP nominee to do exceptionally well with this elusive demographic. Neither Obama nor the GOP frontrunners have done as great a job reaching out to young people and speaking about issues that are important to them as Obama did in 2008 and as Paul does now. We cannot say that no young people will vote in 2012, but it is getting increasingly clear that the percentage of young voters will significantly decrease. I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of young voters just stay home on election day.
Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes