Nearly two million young adults are preparing to don their gowns and mortarboards, walk across the graduation stage and collect their diplomas. For far too many it will be a time of uncertainty rather than celebration. A time of worry instead of relief.
This graduating class, like several before it, is entering an economy that can’t create enough good paying jobs for all of them. Some graduates will be left unemployed, many will be stuck underemployed, and most will be left with a student debt burden that they’ll be paying off for years, a consequence of stagnant wages and soaring tuition.
Sadly, many economists tell us this piddling, post-recession economy is the “new normal.” One in which the labor participation rates hover near historic lows, middle income occupations continue to wither, and economic growth putters along around 2 percent.
As President Obama’s time in the White House, like college students’ time on campus, winds down, this new normal is the legacy he is leaving behind. It comes as little surprise then that a new poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics shows that the president’s grip on young voters is quickly loosening, a fact that could loom large over next year’s elections.
The poll shows that Millennial voters, aged 18 to 29, are not nearly as enamored with the Democratic Party as they were when Barack Obama was first on the ticket. By a 55 to 40 percent margin young adults say they prefer that a Democrat win presidential race. That figure is down sharply from the 67 percent of young voters who supported Obama against John McCain in 2008 and the 60 percent support the age group gave Obama against Gov. Mitt Romney. Instead, it seems to parallel the 54-45 margin that young adults gave John Kerry in 2004 over the eventual Republican President, George W. Bush.
“The margin at the moment looks much more like the 2004 race than the Obama campaigns,” said John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director. “If Republicans can hold the Democrat nominee to less than 60 percent of the young vote national, their chances are dramatically improved for a Republican electoral college win, in my opinion.”
Tellingly, the younger subgroup of Millennials, those 18- to 24-years-old who came of age during the Obama presidency, are even less likely to vote for a Democrat for president. Among that group only a slight majority—53 percent—prefer a Democrat candidate.
None of this is to suggest that Republicans should be happy losing Millennials by 15 points. In fact, we shouldn’t cede the age group at all. The poll also shows that just 21 percent of young adults describe themselves as “politically engaged,” meaning that the vast majority of young adults have yet to truly tune into the race.
That result is due in no small part to the disillusionment with government institutions that has manifested during Obama’s tenure. He came into the White House, carried by the votes of young adults, promising to change the way business was done. Instead, he’s become beholden to the same base political pressures as candidates before him. Along the way he’s clearly taken youth support for granted, asking Millennials to show up and vote in election years, but subsequently doing nothing to promote their priorities.
Republicans aren’t making the same mistake. Since gaining a majority in the Senate they’ve taken dramatic steps to getting the institution working again, fostering debate in committee, allowing amendment votes and passing bipartisan legislation. Republicans in both chambers are offering up innovative, forward-thinking ideas to reduce college costs, reform the criminal justice system, make health care insurance more affordable, and most notably, get the economy humming again by empowering entrepreneurs and fostering organic growth.
Graduation season is a time for reflection, an occasion to look back at the transformative journey you’ve just taken and prepare yourself for whatever comes next. As his term comes to a close it’s not hard to imagine President Obama doing much the same, perhaps even wondering where it all went wrong. Fortunately, Republicans are there, focused on the future, working hard to ensure what comes next is the best yet.