Two articles recently on other websites take on similar themes- the importance of young voters and, more importantly, young(er) candidates. One article noted that despite the alleged doomsday predictions, young voters are not necessarily moving en masse towards the Democratic Party. Neither are they moving to the Republican Party. Exit polling indicates that younger voters are still the least likely to actually vote, but that young voter turnout was the same in 2014 as the last midterm election in 2010. In statewide races, the 18-30 year old voter actually went for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Ohio and tied with the Democratic candidate in the Texas gubernatorial race. Overall in competitive statewide races, the gap among younger voters was 9.8 percentage points. This is well below traditional levels and this year’s projections. And considering that they, overall, are not a large segment of the electorate since they have a tendency not to vote, this gap can be mitigated by the Republican advantages in the older age groups. The 45-64 age group more than obliterates the advantage the Democrats have with the 18-30 group because the former votes in larger numbers and favors the GOP by an average 8.2 percentage points.
Like most groups, the younger voters tend to gravitate towards those most like them not only ideologically, but also in the more visceral sense. For example, the black voter is more apt to vote for the black candidate, the female voter for the female candidate, or the Hispanic voter for the Hispanic candidate. That is because there is a perception of shared experiences and beliefs. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is the general rule. And likewise, the younger voter is no different.
Naturally, within that younger group are young blacks, whites, Hispanics, males and females. There are also regional differences. The young voter is overall more apt to vote Republican in the South and Midwest and more apt to vote Democratic in the Northeast and the West Coast. What should be of some concern to the GOP is the growing tendency of the young voters to vote Democratic in Georgia and Florida- two key states in presidential politics.
And looking at 2016 and the list of possible candidates for both parties, the GOP has an advantage in that their candidates are, on average, considerably younger than their Democratic counterparts. The two presumptive Democratic front-runners- Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden- would be in their 70’s when inaugurated. Conversely, Republican names mentioned like Scott Walker or [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] would be in their 40’s. Overall, of the 12 candidates listed by Larry Sabato on the Republican side, their average age is 11 years younger than the 8 listed on the Democratic side. If as a group younger voters actually behave as any other demographic, they will tend towards those closest to them and that is where the GOP has a slight possible advantage in 2016.
More importantly, however, is ideology. Younger voters tend to care less about the letter after a person’s name and more about the candidate themselves and their views, ideas, and policy solutions. A Pew Research poll from March of this year describes them as “…relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry- and optimistic about the future.” Other publications and studies have shown that younger voters are more liberal on the social issues and libertarian/conservative on fiscal issues. Although younger voters flocked to the Democratic Party in 2008 and 2012, the 2014 midterm exit polls show that in many cases they, like other groups, have soured on Obama. The reason may be that they do not necessarily disagree with his policy positions but more that he has failed to deliver on his promises.
Looked at another way, although tending to vote Democratic, younger voters are looking for a new leader to look up to. The experiences of the past six years have shown that although Obama may have presented some promise, he failed in that regard. In 2016, they will be looking for someone relatively young who has accomplished something more than community organizing and spending two years in the Senate. They want someone with fresh ideas and the background to prove they get things done. Most importantly, they want pragmatism, not dogma.
What does this mean to the GOP in 2016? First, the Republican Party needs to build an infrastructure on college campuses and among younger voters to get out the message. They need to cease dismissing younger voters as just a small part of the electorate. At some point in the future, they will be a more important slice and segment of the voting population and cannot be lost now in their formative years. The 2016 presidential nominee should be someone relatively young, who has a positive vision of the future, and programs, policies and beliefs that benefit not only younger Americans of voting age, but all Americans.