BY MASON RAYNER
In the 2008 election that swept him into power, Barack Obama benefited greatly from the enthusiastic support of voters aged 18-29, carrying them with 66 percent of the vote according to the Pew Research Center. Although Obama’s overall approval numbers have plummeted from the sky-high levels of his first months in office (stabilizing at roughly 50 percent in the RealClearPolitics average) his numbers among young voters have remained high in polling conducted by Gallup.
When one considers the policies being pushed for and enacted by the president, it becomes somewhat puzzling as to just why the youth of America still backs him so strongly.
Consider the health care reform proposals being pushed by the president. However the legislation turns out, it is almost certain that the young will be forced to foot much of the bill. Mandates for purchasing health insurance are aimed at young and healthy people who currently choose not buy an insurance plan; a mandate will force these people to buy insurance or else pay a penalty to the government. Either way, it’s hard not to see it as a tax increase on the young.
Or look at the massive increases in the national debt being piled on by Congress. On the campaign trail last year, Obama criticized George W. Bush for running large budget deficits that added significantly to the national debt. However, since taking office, he has been even more spendthrift than his predecessor, ranging from the $787 stimulus bill which the White House’s economic team declared would prevent unemployment from rising above 8 percent (the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics measured it at 10.2 percent) to a $3.6 trillion omnibus budget bill.
The Congressional Budget Office now predicts that the national debt-to-GDP ratio will rise to 80 percent by 2019. Again, young voters will pay for this profligacy, as payments on debt began to crowd out other government spending and force widespread tax increases.
So if President Obama is pursuing policies that shift considerable costs on to the young, why do they continue to support him so strongly? The answer lies with the Republican party. A majority of those born after 1980 subscribe to a live and let live philosophy – according to polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times, Gallup and the New York Times/CBS News, sub-30 voters support gay marriage, liberalization of drug laws and expanded immigration at consistently higher levels than older generations. Repelled by the seeming intolerance for alternate lifestyles that dominates social conservatism (and thus the GOP,) they embraced Obama last year with open arms.
However, although Obama was able to capitalize on this socially liberal streak, he would be wise to remember that most young Americans are not dyed-in-the-wool leftists. Most are highly educated, and recall that one of the first things they learned in economics class was that free trade is good; the ambivalence of the president (and outright hostility among many in his party) towards trade will puzzle them.
Similarly, we also have enjoyed many of the fruits of capitalism, such as iPods, Facebook and other technological wonders, and know that markets can produce amazing things. Many of us were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall—we know government has an important place, but we also know where to draw the line.
Considering all this, it would seem to me that it is in the president’s best interests, politically, to remember that freedom, the principle this country was founded on, remains something that many of his younger supporters believe in. If he pursues an agenda consistent with that principle, they will continue to support him.
However, if he veers far off to the left, and continues to insist that government is the answer to all of our problems, he may find that one block of the electorate he thought he could count on will no longer fully be there for him in 2012.