Women’s eNews is reporting a big drop-off in interest in politics among young women. After the 2008 election, 30,000 high-school girls applied to participate in “Running Start,” a program that strives to cultivate girls’ interest in politics. This year, fewer than one thousand applied. A Harvard study showed that just 27 percent of young voters (those aged 18 to 29) plan to vote in this election, compared with 36 percent who said they would last year. Significantly fewer young women (23 percent) plan to vote than young men (31 percent).
This is hardly surprising. Just as Lady Gaga devotees aren’t necessarily music aficionados, many (if not most) teens and 20-somethings who became interested during the 2008 election cycle were just swept up in the excitement of a campaign that was also a media phenomenon. Candidate Obama was a superstar. He had devoted followers, but only a small subsection were very interested in or engaged in the debate over public policy. When his star dimmed and the tough reality of a down economy set in, many of Obama’s devoted young voters lost their interest in all things political.
However, there are important lessons here for conservatives. Charismatic candidates and leaders can draw people in, but there has to be something more to keep young women interested. (And in fact, the College Republican National Committee reports a big uptick in membership this year, with 250,000 new members nationwide.)
Prominent conservative female political leaders may help in sparking young women’s interest, but to make lasting converts, we’ll need to convince young women that our policy prescriptions will provide more security (both economic and physical) and create a better future for families and our country in general. Young women tend to approach policy issues differently than men do, which means that we need tailored messages for them. But there’s no reason that young women can’t become a core part of the conservative movement.
— Carrie Lukas is vice president and director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.