Seduced and then disappointed by a hipster who turned out just to be another solipsistic boomer, now chastened yet still hopeful for change (if no longer swept away by the promise of Hope and Change), young Americans are ready to ditch Barack Obama. Things had been getting rocky for a while, but seeing the dawning of the Age of Obamacare in its full glory seems to have been the final indignity. The young will of course never acknowledge that maybe their old-fogey parents were right all along, but they do understand that what they thought was going to be a meaningful, long-term relationship has turned out to be just a youthful fling. And so they’re getting ready to say, Dear Barack, thanks for the memories, but we’ll be returning the next email to sender, addressee unknown.
In 2008, 66 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for Barack Obama, and 60 percent of that age group stuck with their man in 2012. Now a poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows only 46 percent saying they’d vote for him again, and a (narrow) plurality of young Americans actually say they would recall him if they could. (Indeed, among the younger half of the cohort, 18- to 24-year-olds, who missed some of the 2008 infatuation, there’s a clear majority for recall.) Only 41 percent of the 18-to-29 cohort approve of the job performance of the president to whose election they were so crucial, with 54 percent disapproving. Nor is there much lingering fondness for the sweet liberal nothings Barack whispered into their ears. More Americans between 18 and 29 now report they’re conservative (37 percent) than say they’re liberal (33 percent), and one suspects the 26 percent who call themselves moderate are more open to moving in a rightward direction than to the left.
So it’s a real moment of opportunity for conservatives. Can they do more than catch the young on the rebound? Can they begin a lasting relationship, one based not on superficial charm but on a solid basis of understanding and shared interests? Of course a little romance wouldn’t hurt—but honestly, you can’t replicate that first kiss anyway. So conservatives are free to do what they do best, which is to make sense, not love.
The young should be open to common-sense arguments. They are particularly victimized by Obamacare. They’re also being victimized by costly and hidebound institutions of higher education, full of unpleasant liberals whom the young don’t much respect. And in return for being lectured to, they’re being saddled with amazingly burdensome student loan debts. More broadly, young people don’t want to live in a world where nuclear proliferation is out of control and terrorism and Islamic extremism are rewarded, or in a country that’s accumulating debt, losing economic opportunity, and watching upward mobility fade away.
The good news for Republicans is that on all these issues, the entire Democratic party is in sync with Obama. As his policies fail, it’s not as if other Democrats are offering plausible alternatives. Nor does it look as if the Democrats are going to nominate a fresh and youthful face in 2016.
The Republicans don’t really have to do that much. They need to make clear they share young people’s healthy aversion to moralistic nannies and self-important experts who seek to nudge, badger, and coerce us to do things for our own alleged good (welcome to modern liberalism!). They need to advance a broad and bold conservative reform agenda. And they need to produce a compelling presidential nominee in 2016.
Whoever the GOP nominee is, the young are unlikely to swoon. But they also won’t be burdened with regret.