GOP has a chance to win young voters

Published on Friday, 25 April 2014 22:00 - Written by

There’s an interesting essay in Forbes magazine the GOP should read with care. It points out that young voters have every reason to support Republicans in 2014 and 2016 — if Republicans don’t blow it.

But Republicans have a history of doing just that. Just ask the legions of young, enthusiastic supporters of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. We could call them the GOP’s Lost Battalion. When the Republican Party snubbed Paul and his ideas, his supporters abandoned the GOP in droves.

Young people have suffered more than most other demographic groups in the Great Recession.

“Just look at these numbers,” writes Joel Kotkin. “Since 2008, the percentage of the workforce under 25 has dropped by 13.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while that of people over 55 has risen by 7.6 percent. Among high school graduates who left school in 2009-11, only 16 percent had full-time work in 2012, and 22 percent worked part time although most sought a full-time job.”

It’s not just the employment numbers, though those are bad enough. It’s not just the crushing college debt that many face amid this dismal employment climate (16 percent of bartenders, by the way, have four-year college degrees).

It’s also the mounting national debt. It all adds up to create a climate of pessimism among the young.

“Not surprisingly, the young, who are traditionally optimists, are becoming far less so,” Kotkin explains. “According to a Rutgers study, 56 percent of recent high school graduates feel they would not be financially more successful than their parents; only 14 percent thought they’d do better. College education doesn’t seem to make a difference: 58 percent of recent graduates feel they won’t do as well as the previous generation.”

Although the young tend to lean Democratic, the Republicans shouldn’t dismiss them.

“Republicans have no choice but to engage this population,” Kotkin says. “To do so, they must focus primarily on economic growth, where the Democrats don’t have much to recommend themselves. Issues where the GOP could make up ground include reform for boomer pensions, as well as policies to spark job and income growth.”

And that brings us back to Ron Paul and his Lost Battalion. The reference is to the nine Allied divisions lost during World War I, cut off by the Germans and eliminated as a crucial, effective fighting force.

Paul generated youthful enthusiasm among his followers during his presidential bid in 2007 and 2008. But when the establishment GOP locked Paul out of the 2008 Republican National Convention, Paul’s youthful supporters, with their energy and Internet expertise, drifted away. Though few voted for Barack Obama, even fewer could bring themselves to vote for big-government Republican John McCain.

The GOP repeated this blunder in 2012.

Kotkin’s well-reasoned plea should be heeded. The Republican Party can’t afford to marginalize its young people, even as Ron Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul, seems to be making plans for a White House bid.

If Republicans do marginalize the young again, they’ll have earned yet another defeat.