At last week’s presidential nomination conventions, one thing was very clear amidst the acerbic accusations flung at bitter political rivals: Republicans and Democrats alike consider the youth vote crucial to winning the election. And while they both hold a common goal, much like the party platforms, their approaches to gaining that vote are very different.
Young people had found a representative in Libertarian maverick Ron Paul, but even the most hard-line zealots have to concede this point: Ron Paul is not going to get the Republican nomination. So how did the Republicans attract youth? With a lineup of the party’s youngest and hottest conservative stars including Nikki Haley, Mia Love and, of course, VP candidate Paul Ryan. Ryan, a fresh-faced 42-year-old, is exceptionally young to hold his party’s second-highest office. In his keynote speech, Ryan ripped into Obama’s promises, saying, “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.” This statement reminds us of Obama’s promised hope and change. And what has changed is a skyrocketing youth unemployment rate of 24.6 percent, which leaves college students little to subsist on but the “hope” of 2008. The Republican National Convention reminded the youth that Obama has been in control for four years, and his best month of unemployment rating was even worse than Bush’s worst month. They asked, as you exited college — most likely saddled with debt — do you want a job or an unemployment check? They reminded us that Obama’s only answer to the stagnant economy is “I need more time.” Can you, as a student exiting college, really afford that? A simple message, but an effective one.
The strategy at the Democratic National Convention, although different from the RNC’s, wasn’t much different. There was a lot of the same message we’ve been hearing for months — to blame Republicans. Their great plan to aid the youth boils down to one major tool: using Congress to keep down student loan rates, even though this measure failed to pass through legislation in May. The answer at the DNC? Republican stall tactics. Yet, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats. Now it’s September and the party in Congress and the White House has failed to come up with a different plan. So, the DNC puts Michelle Obama on the podium to tell a heart-wrenching tale about how she and Barack struggled to pay the bills and their student loans as newlyweds. The point? Democrats want youth to believe that they’re just like us — they understand our travails. That’s why they need just a little more time. Well, sentiment and sympathy are great tools to energize the base, but they don’t help to pay the bills.
The truth is that they’re out of ideas. Granted, the Republican approach — the use of basic free market economics to jump-start the economy — is nothing new. However, it has worked before, under Ronald Reagan. And so far, Obama’s unemployment-reducing stimulus and emergency spending haven’t. That’s what makes the RNC messaging much more effective. It’s based on tried and true economic principles, not sympathetic appeals to the conscience or wheedling complaints about responsibility. And the numbers are beginning to reflect this. For the first time in the campaign, Romney has over 41 percent of the vote amongst voters aged 18 to 29, according to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center. Obviously, the ideology is wearing a little thin, and young voters are looking for results, not more empty promises.