Data Show Democrats No Longer Own Youth Vote

by Julianne Stanford - University of Arizona on December 13, 2013

The Perfect Storm: Young people are fed up with Obama, and Republican leaders employ modern marketing techniques to reach Millennials.

For decades, Democrats have owned the youth vote – but CNN exit polls from the recent elections in New Jersey and Virginia indicate that trend is coming to an end, thanks in part to Millennials upset with President Barack Obama’s job performance as well as a new found emphasis among Republican leaders on reaching young voters with modern marketing tactics.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie won re-election in November, and along the way garnered 49 percent of voters age 18 to 29, up by a whopping 13 percentage points from his 2009 race, during which he claimed 36 percent of the ballots cast by young people.

Last month in Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe very narrowly defeated the state’s former attorney general Republican Ken Cuccinelli in a three-way race with Libertarian candidate Rob Sarvis, a political battle in which most of the youth vote was won by Cuccinelli.

Among 18- to 24-year-olds, Cuccinelli took 45 percent of voters to McAuliffe’s 39 percent and Sarvis’ 15 percent. And with a Libertarian in the mix – who are always popular among the Millennial crowd – it isn’t a stretch to say Sarvis took away young voters from Cuccinelli, as Libertarians tend to vote Republican.

As for why Christie and Cuccinelli did so well with young voters in these recent races, it has partly to do with the candidates themselves, as well as geography, explains Peter Roff, a political commentator with U.S. News & World Report.

“Younger voters in Virginia tend to vote more conservative than the national electorate, and were attracted to Cuccinelli’s seriousness of purpose and their perception he was a conviction politician,” Roff said in an interview with The Fix. “Christie campaigned as a Jersey guy, not as a Republican. For young people in New Jersey, that is a key motivator. They liked him better.”

But underscoring those specifics, the election results also indicate a national trend, Roff said.

“On the surface they have nothing in common,” he said. “Underneath that though, is Barack Obama.”

Under Obama, young people coming out of high school and college cannot find a job, nor afford the high rates and deductibles under the federally mandated Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Just like (President Jimmy) Carter’s failures pushed young people to (President Ronald) Reagan, Obama’s failures are pushing young voters to the Republicans,” Roff said.

And it’s not just showing up in recent election results.

More than half of Millennials – 54 percent – disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance, and his approval rating among 18- to 29-year-olds has reached its lowest point since the beginning of his presidency, according to a Harvard University Institute of Politics poll released earlier this month.

National Executive Director of the College Republican National Committee Matthew Donnellan said in an interview with The College Fix that in addition to Obama’s impact on youth voting trends, Republican leadership has taken a more proactive approach at attracting young voters.

The recent election in Virginia is an example, he said. The committee ran an online ad in October targeting women ages 18 to 24, a demographic in which Cuccinelli had been seriously underperforming, to illustrate McAuliffe was dishonest about his past.

The ad was a parody of MTV’s show “Catfish,” popular among young women in Virginia. The 60-second video, as described in a memo released by the CRNC, “uses clips from news stories and text messages to create a narrative that McAuliffe is probably deceiving her.”

“Joined by the actors playing the show’s hosts, the three explore the truth about McAuliffe. The hosts uncover two especially powerful negatives: that McAuliffe lied about creating jobs in Virginia, and that McAuliffe left his wife during childbirth to attend a political fundraiser.”

The ad was a success, according to the College Republican National Committee, which promises to continue to employ similar marketing techniques in future elections.

Donnellan added: “It’s not what we say, but how we say it.”

The key to reaching youth voters is using mediums they are comfortable with, such as the online advertising employed in Virginia.

The importance of gaining the support of youth voters is crucial, as demonstrated in the 2012 presidential election.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement released a report in May highlighting the unexpected influence of this age group during the election.

“Young voters (under age 30) chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 60 percent to 37 percent, a 23-point margin,” the center reports. “Obama won the youth vote and lost the over-45 vote in several states, including Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He won those state’s electoral votes, which demonstrates the importance of youth voters to the outcome.”

It’s a lesson Republicans have learned – that they must appeal and win over young voters to win elections; and they’re getting better at it.

“The 1.5 million impressions the CRNC purchased were favorably received online, with more than half of some audiences watching the video in its entirety,” states a recent memo from the committee. “Moving forward, Republican campaigns must employ these … whenever possible, to reach out to young voters with messages and themes to which they relate and through media they consume.”

“The potential to win young voters over to Republican candidates is enormous.”

So where does the conservative movement and the youth vote go from here? Only up, according to Raffi Williams, deputy press secretary of the Republican National Committee.

“Cuccinelli winning voters under 24 combined with Gov. Christie winning 48 percent of young voters show that the Republican Party is well positioned to continue making gains with young voters,” he said in an email to The Fix. “These successes prove what polls have continually shown, that the ability to have a good job on the right career track is the most important issue to young Americans and in many cases dictates how they vote.”

Fix contributor Julianne Stanford is a student at University of Arizona.

IMAGE: SLU Madrid Campus/Flickr

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