My prediction for 2012 is that Obama will get a higher percentage of the millennial vote than Romney will, despite the fact that there is less unanimous – and certainly less passionate – support for Obama than there was in 2008. As young people, we are idealistic, stubborn, and impulsive. The only presidents we grew up with any familiar knowledge of were Bush 41 and 43, and Clinton. Obama was so different from those presidents we knew that it energized us and we rallied behind him for what we thought were all the right reasons. The Republicans like to say that Obama won on a frivolous, idealistic platform of hope and change. He did, but he didn’t win because of that – he won because he brought out the best in us. I was 16 when I canvassed and campaigned for Obama in two different states, knocking on doors, answering calls, and challenging every McCain supporter I came across. I wasn't even old enough to vote for Obama myself.
But, I was energized by the possibility of a future where a man could win the presidency despite or in spite of his race. A future where hard work actually pays off and where in a post-modern, post-racial, post-military America dreams can become realities and so much more could be accomplished. This is the same future where same-sex couples would enjoy the same rights and freedoms as heterosexual couples and live comfortably without fear that they would be taunted or worse; a future where every building is solar powered, and no child is ever hungry, and every child is able to get a college education.
All young people have the idealism to create their dreams and the energy to pursue them. As we get older, perhaps wiser, and always more experienced, we understand what limitations are in place; if we’re lucky, we’ll learn how to get around them. But while idealism wanes, important issues do not – in fact, they only get stronger.
In the Atlantic’s article “Why the Millennials Aren’t a Slam Dunk for the Democratic Party”, the decline in millennial support for the Democratic Party is explained primarily by the economy. While this is not specific necessarily to the Democratic Party – in that whichever party is in power will lose support when the economy is doing poorly – it is indicative of the issues that are relevant for the millennials. As the article explains, our “high expectations for Obama combined with a perceived lack of progress on the economy” have dented loyalty to the Democratic Party. Most government initiatives are intimidating and unknown to the majority of Americans – that is until they need them. Even registering to vote or getting a driver’s license is a process that one may not understand until they must do it; imagine how difficult it is to comprehend such giants as Medicare and Social Security when you haven’t even had your first job yet. Millennials don’t understand them, don’t use them, and don’t even think they’ll still exist when they retire so they are less likely to fight major changes or reforms to the systems. Millennials are more likely to fight, however, for social issues like same-sex marriage, contraception for women, and immigration reform. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 62% of millennials favor allowing same-sex couples to marry, as opposed to only 31% of seniors, and 68% of millennials are more strongly committed to the availability of legal abortions by health care professionals, as opposed to 56% of the general public. We’re young, we’re already poor – we’d rather see our social agenda succeed than worry about a 50-year-old financial program.
These issues are important to us because we believe that America should be the meritocracy that it always claimed to be, where there is equality of opportunity and freedom of choice. This is why the millennials have traditionally supported the Democratic Party; it has been progressive. If anything, the Republican Party has been regressive since the days of their esteemed Ronald Reagan. If the Republicans want to even dream about having another Republican president ever again, they need to revitalize the party and its goals. It’s not true that GOP membership is strictly old white men like John McCain and crazy-eyed, just-plain-crazy Michele Bachmann, but if their idea of diversity is Governor Bobby Jindal or former Chairman Michael Steele, they have a serious problem.
Here are the youth demographics that the Republicans need to think about: the LGBQT community, which has been growing rapidly as more Americans are coming out and fighting for civil rights. Women, more of whom are attending college than men and who are fighting to keep the government from legislating their reproductive rights. Blacks, who are still threatened by the white majority as they suffer from the highest numbers of obesity, diabetes, AIDS, and murders in the United States. And other ethnic groups, like Hispanics and Asians that are among the least represented Americans in Congress and are targeted in anti-immigration policies.
The GOP needs to de-conservatize to accept social issues and move past divisive domestic debates to actually improve government in the ways that it so desperately needs reforms, just like blue-dog Democrats did in the 1950s. It’s not about compromising values; it’s about respecting new ones. Like one of the popular slogans of the LGBTQ movement: “if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one.”
It’s likely that millennials will vote for Obama this November, although perhaps not in the same record-numbers as 2008. Whereas in 2008 they voted because they believed in Obama himself, now they will be voting for him because of his party. Some may brave the alternative, but others will not want to take the chance supporting a party that has historically only kept the old white men’s interests at heart.
This piece is a follow-up to the writer's previously published, 'Winning the Millennial Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election Will Be Impossible If You Can't Make Us Care.'