Liberty and the Youth Vote

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Friends of liberty, especially economic liberty, cannot be very happy with the voting data from the last election.  The campaign focused not only on economic issues but on economic independence.  One candidate celebrated the private sector and emphasized that true liberty encompassed only the freedom of the mind and the “freedom to build a life,“ but also the “freedom to build a business.”  

The second candidate, the incumbent President, objected: “no, you didn’t build that.”

The first candidate lost in a landslide of Mondalesque proportions.  Among young people, 60% of voters, 18-29 years old, cast their vote for the incumbent.  Indeed, the last incumbent President to be so popular among young voters was Ronald Reagan.

Confirmation that the young had grown weary of economic liberty was found in a contemporaneous Pew poll.  While the general public had a largely negative opinion of “socialism” (60%-31%), young people favored it by a margin on 49% to 43%.

If there’s any consolation, perhaps it’s in the same poll’s finding that young people also favored the word “libertarian” by a wide margin, 50%-26%.   How to explain this seeming contradiction?  It is possible that many young libertarians simply have a mistaken notion of “socialism,” e.g., that it implicates merely voluntary sharing.  One suspects, however, that many consider libertarianism and socialism as complementary: the first gives you the freedom to do what you feel, and the latter provides the freedom from worry about the resulting  consequences, like unemployment, healthcare costs, etc.  If so, the wave of the future may very well be marijuana—legalized, subsidized, and socialized.

Still, looking more closely at the 2012 exit-poll data, one finds some reason for optimism.  A clear majority of young whites supported Romney.  Obama won only 44% of that vote, down from 54% in 2012.  Given that non-whites were a larger proportion of the youth vote, it was seemingly the race of the youth, then, and not their age, that largely explained the apparent generation gap.  Across all age groups, Obama won over 90% among African-Americans, and over 70% among Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.

Still, looking more closely at the 2012 exit-poll data, one finds some reason for optimism.  A clear majority of young whites supported Romney; Obama won only 44% of that vote, down from 54% in 2012.  It was the race of the youth, then, and not their age, that largely explained the apparent generation gap.  Obama won over 90% among African-Americans, and over 70% among Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans—across all age groups.

If so, then the challenge to the friends of liberty is find a way to appeal to young voters of all races.  The polling data suggests the difficulties may not be all that daunting.  For instance, the relative socio-economic status of minorities may not pose an insuperable obstacle.  After all, among young whites, Obama’s performance dropped most dramatically among those without a college degree, plummeting from 51% to 38%.

In fact, Romney’s relative, but surprising success among one set of young people may suggest a substantial opportunity.  Among African-American young men, Romney’s performance, relative to McCain’s, nearly tripled; Romney received 19% to McCain’s 6%.   This result reflects a striking age and gender gap.   Black men overall gave Romney only 11% of their vote.  And young African-American women supported Obama with near unanimity (98%).

How did Romney attract so many more votes among poorer whites and African-American men?  Romney did not make any special appeal to these constituencies.  Perhaps there is something about the Age of Obama that is less than friendly to the aspirations of young people, and young men in particular.  What would happen, say in 2016, if a pro-liberty candidate undertook a targeted appeal to young people, and especially young men of all races?  It’s worth a shot.