The “luster of Obama’s promises has worn off” and “hope” and “change” no longer drive young voters. In 2008, the “millennial” generation, comprising those between the ages of 18 to 29, voted for President Obama by a margin of 2–1. In 2004, President Bush lost this demographic by nine points to John Kerry. But, for the first time in over a decade, it appears the trend has reversed — young Americans are now reconsidering their allegiances to the Democratic party. Why have the millennials, the group that Obama has described as “the foundation of [his] campaign,” abandoned him? To quote another Democratic campaign, “it’s the economy, stupid.”
According to research conducted for Resurgent Republic, a conservative policy organization, young voters are no longer enamored with the president because of the current state of the economy. The millennials chosen for the focus groups were all self-identified independents who had voted for Obama in 2008 but were now undecided on the generic ballot. The dramatic effects of the “Great Recession” had shifted the mindsets of these younger Americans — unemployment amongst this crucial Obama demographic is currently at its highest point since the end of World War II.
Furthermore, among the millennials interviewed, there was a “palpable sense of underemployment” according to Luke Frans of Resurgent Republic. Although these young voters still like Obama personally, they now hold him responsible for his policies. Discussions of “hope” and “change” only elicited cynicism from them. A young North Carolinian surveyed said that President Obama “promised the moon and could not even deliver the upper atmosphere,” while another voter from Raleigh complained that “we expected a lot more.”
Resurgent Republic is not the only group to have discovered this trend among younger voters. Generation Opportunity, a new, non-partisan organization that seeks to organize millennials on economic issues, has also found rising dissatisfaction over Obama’s handling of the economy from previously ardent supporters. Its polling of young Americans across the country shows that 54 percent believe America is heading in the wrong direction. According to Paul Conway, the president of Generation Opportunity, the “number one overwhelming issue [for them], which folks deal with everyday, is the lack of jobs in America.” Generation Opportunity has found that the current economy has forced 77 percent of millennials to put their lives on hold. Many are delaying buying a home, saving for retirement, paying off debt, returning to school, or starting a family.
Millennials around the country are echoing these findings. Chris Pizzo, a 27-year-old lawyer in Florida, insists that there are “serious doubts among young voters and young Americans” about this economy. Chris says that even his “company, [which is] looking to expand and grow,” is “seeing individuals looking to work with us” who are significantly overqualified, “as traditional options aren’t there.” Trevor Brownlow, an 18-year-old freshman at University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill, describes how the economy has left him “unsettled,” and forced him to ask himself “what opportunities are out there?” The millennials are looking for concrete plans for an economic recovery — whether it is deficit reduction, lower gas prices, or tax cuts. Deficit reduction is of particular interest to this younger generation, as there is a realization that they will be stuck with the ramifications of the federal government’s overspending.
Independent millennials that are leaning Republican are focused solely on the economy and are not being drawn to the Republican party by social issues. In fact, according to Luke Frans, the millennials in the Resurgent Republic focus groups refused to discuss the Republican party’s social views. In other interviews, millennials have noted that they preferred the Republican party’s leadership on the economy, but could not bring themselves to vote for a Republican out of distaste for current GOP positions on gay marriage and abortion.
For the general election, the path is clear. Millennials will be a key factor in the swing states. If they vote in similar numbers for President Obama, then it will be nearly impossible for the Republican candidate to triumph. However, these younger voters can be swayed by a strong economic plan. If the GOP seizes upon millennial disillusionment with the Democratic party, they could secure an entirely new Republican constituency.
— Nathaniel Botwinick is an editorial intern at National Review