Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Youth Vote: 2012 and the Future

"Washington live[s] in an era of Democratic triumphalism. . . Democrats . . . are convinced that their destiny is almost upon them. To be sure, they thought that before, in 2008, and that turned out to be incorrect. But ultimately, they expect changing U.S. demographics to deliver the sort of rock-solid control of the political process that they enjoyed between 1932 and 1968."

--Megan McArdle, “Bloomberg”

Democrats are the big government party. Those happily and directly dependent upon big government represent Democrats’ core strength. But the big government core can’t hold power on their own; they depend upon more marginal voters who favor Democrats over Republicans, even as Republicans offer the prospect of a stronger, more prosperous economy.

In 2012, Obama skillfully held three demographic groups--minorities, unmarried women, and youth-- to his side against Romney, in the face of a poor economy adversely affecting each group.  “Democratic triumphalism” is the belief that Hillary Clinton will ride to the White House in 2016 on the backs of even more votes from unmarried women, minorities, and youth.

Unmarried women, for sure. We have examined the role of minorities in Obama’s 2012 victory, and tied it in part to Obama’s being our first nonwhite president ever. We now turn to youth and their role--last year and in the future. How do youth feel about Democrats today?

One can read concern in the voice of progressive Ezra Klein, pleading in “Bloomberg" for youth to support Obamacare by signing up for health insurance that offers them few immediate benefits:
young, healthy rich people will need a functional system in the future when they become older, sicker or poorer. So even for those least in need, health-insurance premiums are an investment--not in someone else's future, but in their own. Only a cramped and narrow view of self-interest assumes that the status quo lasts forever.
Obamacare represents a challenge for young people, but nothing compared to that offered by college expenses. Businessweek’s Karen Weise gets at the roadblocks rising costs put in the path of ordinary college applicants and their families:
debt [is] a spiraling problem for colleges: As they raise tuition, more families need aid to afford school. Students take out more debt, but colleges also respond by offering more aid, which then increases the college’s costs. . .colleges are increasingly directing their aid to wealthier families—who need it least—in a bid to increase revenue and raise their prestige (though it doesn’t necessarily fetch smarter students).
the credit rating of a school generally correlates to how competitive a college is, and the more competitive schools use grants, endowments, and gifts to offset costs. Schools rated AAA get about a quarter of their income from tuition, but less competitive schools with the lowest ratings depend on tuition to make up more than three-quarters of their revenue. There [are] calls for states to kick in more support for public colleges after years of declining state funds forced big tuition increases[--f]rom 2008 to 2013, state support fell almost 11%.
Rising tuition costs underline the problem of starting out life with unpaid student loans. Last year, the average student loan balance was $24,300, with one-quarter of borrowers owing more than $28,000, and 10% owing more than $54,000. 60% of college attendees take out student loans, and 37 million people owe money today.

Combine student debt with a rotten job market. Pew Research found that the Great Recession slammed 18-31 year olds. Between 2007 and 2012, their employment rate dropped from 70% to 63%. Also, whereas in 1981, 35% of 18-31 year olds lived at home or with relatives, by last year, that figure had risen to 43%, and while in 1981, 43% of 18-31 year olds lived with spouses, by last year, living with spouses had dropped to just 23%.

Yet so far, Republicans don’t benefit. Stephanie Slade, in US News, reported that
College Republicans asked a focus group of aspiring entrepreneurs why they voted for President Obama even though they see Republicans as the party that favors business. "The Republican Party would make it really easy to start a business and have a successful business if you already have that capital in your bank account … but we're all sitting on our own various debts and our student loans, and the Republican Party isn't helping us with any of that," one respondent explained. . . conservatives have to find a different way of proving to people they're not just looking out for the rich and powerful. More and more it seems their only hope is by making the GOP's raison d'ĂȘtre to get the crony out of capitalism.
According to Sam Youngman, in Reuters, Romney in 2012 drew 37% of the youth vote, compared to the 32% that voted for Republican John McCain in 2008. Still, Obama crushed Romney with 60% of the youth vote, and 18- to 29-year-old voters accounted for 19% of the total vote. Of those 19%, 64% said abortion should be legal and 66% supported gay marriage. And youth determined the election outcome, as the GOP “Growth and Opportunity Project” (p. 23) admitted; it wrote that Romney won voters over 30 by 1.8 million while losing those under 30 by 5 million (later votes enlarged those early-reported margins).

FOX News similarly reported that 60% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for Obama, making up 19% of voters. FOX added that those between 30-39 voted 55% for Obama and made up 17% of the electorate, suggesting 40 rather than 30 may have been the actual age dividing line between Obama and Romney.

In any case, youth change their composition over time, and are a volatile voting bloc to begin with. Liberals Page Gardner and Celinda Lake, writing in “Politico,” noted that younger voters in 2010  shied away from the polls and represented just 12% of voters that year. And the New York Times found that college-age voters 18-24 registered only a 41.2% turnout in 2012, a decline of 7.3% from their 2008 turnout.

Youth twice helped vote Obama in. How a new group of young people will vote in 2016 partly depends upon the campaigns of both parties.

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