- - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Recently, while speaking at the Western Conservative Summit, radio talk-show host Warren Smith created a term that grabbed the attention of many in attendance. In the context of discussing American voting patterns, he coined the term “moveable millennials.”

Mr. Smith was making the argument that young people, long a captured voting block for Democrats, are now beginning to awaken to the perils and pitfalls of big government gone wild and are ripe to be taken by candidates who make a compelling and contrary argument.

The best part about Mr. Smith’s argument is that on-campus interaction with students all across the nation indicates that he’s right. The concerning part about his argument with regard to conservative candidates is the philosophical question of “if a liberal student falls on a campus, do they actually make a noise?”

For decades since the 60’s, and only interrupted by the conservative enthusiasm generated among youth by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the young vote has been equated with liberal vote. I have previously written about the voting statistics for youth in both Obama victories and the ironic, or fitting, impact those votes have had on 20-somethings as they find themselves out of work, buried in debt and viewing the lottery as their best chance for financial security. But young people have been reflexively voting liberal before the Obama folks launched their Facebook page and long before they began using their parents’  credit card to buy a “Hope & Change” t-shirt.

As a general rule, Democrats could count on young people to be a solid majority block for liberal candidates in each election and at every level. The reasons for this can be summed up by the fact that young people who are not yet experienced in matters of the “real world” become seduced by the traditional progressive arguments. But as is often the case business, when you take something for granted, interesting things can happen.

The scandals of 2013 involving government surveillance of cell phone records and emails, coupled with the revelations of Edward Snowden, woke up the youth in a manner nobody anticipated. When college seniors started hearing National Security Agency crosstalk through their headphones instead of Maroon 5 they hit the “pause” button on their taken-for-granted political assumptions and let out a loud and collective “What the hell’s going on?”

So now American youth are doing some listening-in of their own. They are becoming more engaged in the political process and not in the old-fashioned kind of way. They are listening to arguments and starting to ask questions about what they’ve been told about the evils of capitalism, the righteousness of redistributive income programs, and what “social justice” really means. They are open, more than at any time in the past 30 years, to hear the compelling argument for American first-principles. But just like the paramedic who puts his ear to the chest of an injury victim, the question is: Can you hear anything?

Every candidate who considers himself a “conservative needs to recognize that the young American mind, along with its attendant vote, is in play. They need to realize that young voters are not truly ideologically opposed to free market ideas; they have just been on “team left” for a very long time. They can make the transition to “team right” if somebody can just make them feel welcome when they get there. Just like strangers at a large party, they need to be introduced, to be shown around, to be made to feel like your friends are their friends.

There is at work in all of this a politically fascinating paradox. For years the Democrats have taken getting the majority of the youth vote for granted.  At the same time, the Republicans have taken losing the youth vote for granted.  As of this moment, neither political party has seemingly noticed the current nature of the dangers and opportunities they simultaneously now face. What is clear is that the “moveable millennials” are no longer taking themselves for granted.