President Obama and Democrats in Congress have recently taken youth support for granted. It’s not without good reason. After all, young adults are the foundation upon which Barack Obama’s presidency rests. They are the age group that devoted countless man-hours to making a little-known junior senator from Illinois into an unmatched political force. We knocked on doors, we made phone calls, we created clubs, you name it, we did it.
Our votes also carried him into office. Barack Obama won 5 million more votes than Gov. Romney among voters under the age of 30, more than enough to offset the 2 million vote advantage Romney had in other age groups.
And after all that effort Democrats have done little to address the major problems facing young adults. Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high compared to other age groups. College costs are soaring and so are student loan debts. And government spending is increasingly skewed towards older Americans (think Medicare and Social Security) rather than continued investment in younger generations (think education).
More broadly, young adults are right to be disappointed in the economy. We grew up expecting the American Dream and instead we may be the first generation to miss out. Jobs remain scarce, and even those we can find don’t take advantage of our skills. Such massive underemployment is driving down our career earnings potential, which isn’t helped by the fact that wages generally are already low. Things have gotten so bad that we’ve entirely restructured our lives based on lowered expectations – statistics show that we’re getting married later, delaying starting a family, and waiting to buy a home, all due in part to a dramatic increase in economic insecurity.
For these and other reasons the common assumption that younger generations will grow up to be liberal may turn out to be a myth. David Leonhardt writes for the New York Times:
But the temporary nature of the 1960s should serve as a reminder that politics change. What seems permanent can become fleeting. And the Democratic Party, for all its strengths among Americans under 40, has some serious vulnerabilities, too.
In the simplest terms, the Democrats control the White House (and, for now, the Senate) at a time when the country is struggling. Economic growth has been disappointing for almost 15 years now. Most Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Our foreign policy often seems messy and complex, at best.
To Americans in their 20s and early 30s — the so-called millennials — many of these problems have their roots in George W. Bush’s presidency. But think about people who were born in 1998, the youngest eligible voters in the next presidential election. They are too young to remember much about the Bush years or the excitement surrounding the first Obama presidential campaign. They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world’s problems.
Leonhardt may actually be understating the demographic problem that Democrats could face. After all, it’s not that President Obama seems unable to fix the world’s problems, it’s that his actions are only serving to make them worse. On health care costs, entitlement sustainability, foreign relations, economic growth, and even, economic inequality, there is a strong argument to be made that the current administration’s policies have exacerbated the problem.
This is not purely an academic argument to be debated amongst pundits, this is based in some pretty compelling numbers. John Sides writes for the Washington Post:
If we zero in even further on the youngest of the millennials in these polls — those who turned 18 during Obama’s first term — the potential challenges for Democrats become even clearer. Among self-reported voters who were 18 years old in 2012, Mitt Romney, not Obama, won the majority: 57 percent. Romney also won 59 percent among 19-year-olds, and 54 percent among 20-year-olds. These youngest voters of 2012 had entered the electorate in 2010-2012, when Obama’s popularity was much lower than the high point of his inauguration. Only among “the oldest of the youngest” — 21-year-olds, whose political memories would have been forged during Obama’s first year in office and perhaps during his first presidential campaign — did Obama win a clear majority (75 percent).
It’s commonly said that demography is destiny. Nowhere is that more true than in politics. If Democrats truly wanted to own their political destiny President Obama should have focused on helping young adults.