Does the GOP have 2016 Youth Vote Problem?

Does the GOP really have a youth vote problem? If you look at 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, and even 2012 when he won re-election, there was a clear indication that the youth voted in large numbers to elect him, especially in 2008 when they were moved into action by his promise of Hope and Change. During that election, Obama capture a whopping 66 of the youth vote. As the video below shows, there were doubts in 2012 whether Obama was going to get young people to vote, especially when the media kept saying that they have become disillusioned and lost hope in his leadership. Just checkout this PBS NewHour piece:

But as it turned out, Obama was comfortably re-elected, with a significant youth vote. He may not have gotten the same numbers he got in 2008 but he overwhelmly won their vote to beat Romney and hold on to the White House.

The GOP Youth Vote Problem

On the other side of the political divide, the GOP has been dealing with it’s own problems when it comes to the youth. This Washington Times article explains the challenges the GOP face in bringing young people to their fold. If you look at the demographic data, you begin to get the picture as to why this is a concern. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1999, consist of 80 million Americans. They now constitute one-fourth of the total voters today – which makes them a much larger voting population than seniors citizens. According to some estimates, they are going to make up as much as 40 percent of the electorate by 2020. As a result, anyone in politics today has to pay attention to this important voting block and the issues and policies that matter to them.

What do Millennials Want?

Millennials are concerned about issues that matter to them in their present day life. As they get older, those are likely to change, but now that they are in their 20s and early 30s, they are concerned about employment, income security, student debt burden, climate change, and social safety, like food assistance and healthcare that benefits those who cannot afford them. The issue of student debt burden has received much publicity as  many millennials have gotten into the workforce and discovered that they are unable to make ends meet due to the heavy student loans they are carrying, especially those who went to grad school and find themselves with careers that can barely pay for their living and food expenses, let alone cover monthly payments for student debt.

Top 3 Issues for Congress to Vote on

What are the top three issues issues that the United States Congress must focus on for the remainder of their term, which ends in January 2015? In our opinion, the top the issues that must come to a vote are Food Stamps, Immigration and Veterans Care.

We picked Food Stamps as the first issue for obvious reasons. Even though the economy is improving and millions of people have found employment since the beginning of the year, there are still millions of people on SNAP Benefits and many more applying in states like Georgia. By the last count, there are 52 million people receiving food assistance from the federal government. What many people don’t know is that there are a fair amount of people who are on food assistance who have jobs. The problem is that they don’t make enough money to be able to cover their expenses, including putting food on the table. In addition, some of these people, while employed, have only been able to find part time jobs, so their income is not sufficient. The problem is worse, especially in the south where states like Georgia have a large percentage of their population on food stamps. The only way to help alleviate this situation is for Congress to vote more money towards these programs.

The next issue that requires a vote immediately is immigration. With the summer consumed by news of children crossing the southern border, it is time Congress addressed the issue of immigration. This includes securing the border, establishing a guest worker program, making it easy for highly skilled immigrants who come here for advanced degrees to stay, and also establish a path to permanent residency for the millions of people who are already here illegally. But it must first start with securing the border. Without that, all efforts are in vain since the problem will continue to grow.

"vote on a border bill"

Finally, while we have seen recent action on veterans healthcare, we need more action on caring for veterans. When they volunteer to fight for this country, the least we could do is care for them when they return. The House Veterans Committee for example has held numerous hearings on the issue but we have not seen any concrete legislation that proposes a broad and comprehensive plan aimed at veterans care. This is a very sad situation especially given the challenges many veterans face finding employment when they return to civilian life. The long neglect has produced some of the most shameful statistics of our nation, including record number of veterans that are unemployed, homeless or can’t even afford the basic necessities and have to rely on the government for things like food assistance. It is time Congress takes on this issue head on and presents the people a comprehensive package to take care of the many veterans that have more than done their fair share to right for this country so we can keep our freedoms.

We think votes should be scheduled on these three issues before the end of the year, so they are not left for the next Congress to have to deal with. Besides, they are pressing issues that require action now!

Why the Youth Vote is Inconsistent

Each election year, you hear a lot of noise about why the youth vote is inconsistent. One election cycle it’s up, and then the next it’s down. Meanwhile other age groups are pretty consistent in their voting turnout. For example, senior voting patterns tend to be very predictable and follow a very consistent pattern. It is also true that in elections that are dominated by issues seniors care about, like Social Security and Medicare, you are likely to see a large number of seniors voting to protect their interests. Groups like the AARP also make sure that seniors turn out in record numbers when an election could change their benefits in a negative or positive way.

However, when it comes to the youth vote, the story is different. For example when Barack Obama first run for the Presidency in 2008, there is no question that his candidacy motivated a lot of young people and brought a large number of them into politics and political action and mobilization for the first time. Young people made a big difference in putting Obama in Office. If you look at the chart below, you will see that there was a big bump in youth voter turnout in 2012. The last time that happened was in 1992, when another presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, galvanized the youth into participating in politics and getting involved.

"Youth Vote turnout"

Why did young people turn out in record numbers in 1992 and 2008? There are several reasons. First, the candidates in question, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama represented hope and a fresh start. It also helped that they were both young and vibrant candidates, who easily connected with the youth and the issues important to them. But something interesting happened during the re-election of these two presidents. The youth vote fell, and in the case of Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996, the youth vote fell considerably, from 48.6% in 1992 to 35.6% in 1996. In case of Obama’s reelection, the youth vote fell from 48.5% to 41.2% from 2008 to 2012 respectively. While this was not such a big drop as in the case of Clinton, it was still sizable drop.

One of the reasons political scientists give for this drop is the failure of candidates to address issues important to the youth – unemployment, higher education cost and accessibility, environment and climate change and issues of war and peace. However, Bill Clinton was re-elected during one of the boom times for the U.S. economy, and yet his re-election saw a much steeper drop in the youth vote. There must therefore be other reasons. One can hypothesize that the youth are only interested in change elections. Once they get their change candidate in office, they tend to lose interest in the day to day details of governing, so they have no reason to go back and vote for re-election since they are not close to the issues and therefore have no reason to get involved in the reelection of their candidate. Could it also be that once these change candidates get in office, they fail in keeping in touch with the youth and effectively communicate to them on what they are doing to fix issues that are important to the youth? Whatever the reasons are, there is no doubt that the youth tend to support a change candidate for election in masses and usually drop off during re-election.

For more on this topic, checkout this interesting article from the NY Times comparing voting patterns of baby boomers and millennials. Do you agree with our reasons? Why do you think the youth vote drops off during re-election? What do you think accounts for the low participation of young people in some presidential elections? Please comment below.

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