- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Gauging young people’s increased political participation and tagging them to a political party’s long-term future success is always a risky gambit, even more so when it is associated with a candidate.

This magical shepherd’s staff now belongs to Barack Obama.

Before Mr. Obama it was another Democrat, Bill Clinton, but the assumption or perception that the 15-year increases in participation of young people under age 30 has something to do with a candidate or their party is folly.

This is a typically “ageist” argument. It negates any notion that more and more young people are choosing to get involved for their own set of interests, but also ignores the interests as well.

What is driving young people, and has been driving them throughout this 15-year trend is “change,” Mr. Obama’s favorite word. The only thing politicians have done is pay more attention to young people at the right time.

Young people have always been involved in the political process in varying degrees based on the issues at the time. Many of the young people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement may not have participated with their votes, but that is because they had no voting rights. Their high level of activity in the process is undeniable.

And politicians responded.

For the next 20 years however, politicians fell back into their usual habit of ignoring young people who are historically viewed as an unreliable voting base.

Recent studies by the American National Election Studies show that young people are trending Democratic in their votes for president and a Pew Research poll shows young adults, particularly young women, trending Democrat in their party affiliation. The assumption is that Republicans are in trouble.

But the principle interests of young people and what makes them historically unreliable is their desire to change.

Mr. Clinton was able to capture the support of young Americans because he was not another Republican. More importantly he proved he was neither Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush.

Even as Mr. Clinton was in the White House, then House Speaker Newt Gingrich used his prowess and knowledge as a college professor to organize young Republicans on college campuses to secure his party’s majority in Congress. It was an historic change from the status quo of 40 years of Democratic control. The opportune word, of course, is change.

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

At present young people are trending Democratic and coalescing around Mr. Obama in bigger numbers than in 2004, but that has more to do with a desire to have a president whose name isn’t Bush or Clinton and a president who has not been a part of the partisan bitterness in Washington.

In other words, young Americans trend towards change one of Mr. Obama’s favorite things, and perhaps Republicans should take note of that.

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