Jan's Corner: The Youth Vote: Key to Winning Elections

June 13, 2013

A new memo from the College Republicans National Committee (CRNC) is clear about the importance of the youth vote in 2012:Despite Romney holding a 2 million-vote advantage over the President among voters aged 30 and older, Obama’s significant lead with the youth vote was enough to ensure his reelection.”

The CRNC goes on to explain how young people think about politics and policies, and how they get their political information. The findings are based on focus groups held in 2013.

This is one of the best political memos based on polling and focus group data I've seen and is useful whether you're a Republican, Democrat or Independent.

If the Republican Party is going to win back the support of younger voters, it concludes, it will need to change its media strategy, its messages and the way it frames its policy preferences.

For example, the Republican focus on lower taxes and less regulation may be popular among many voters but it is not a relevant issue for most young voters.  The memo notes that the Republican “focus on taxation and business issues has left many young voters thinking they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business.“

Instead, the CRNC memo recommends that “focusing on how our policies can unleash economic growth and opportunity” is key, as is “connecting our principles to the day-to-day economic challenges faced by young people such as their health care costs and student loan debt.”

Anyone wanting to court the Millennial generation of voters will also benefit from the interesting data in the 2013 Harvard Institute of Politics’ (IOP) biennial survey of young Americans’ attitudes toward politics and public service. The most recent poll, for example, revealed that Millennials are becoming more entrenched in their political views, and that 42 percent of Millennials believe that U.S. politics are on the wrong track.

This focus on the importance and complexity of the youth vote is a nice counterbalance to efforts underway in at least 40 states to change voter ID requirements and same-day voter registration. Many of these efforts are effectively limiting the youth vote. (Advocates are concerned about the impact on minority voters as well.)

One of the most startling examples of this is in North Carolina, where legislation—Senate Bills 666 and 667—was recently introduced that would prevent parents from claiming college-age kids as dependents on their state taxes if those students register to vote in their college communities.

The Supreme Court will be delivering a decision soon on two major voting rights cases that will define the scope of federal authority in protecting the right to vote.  To keep track of state actions on voting rights, including those affecting young voters, check out the Brennan Center for Justice’s page on the youth vote here.

With the 2012 election barely behind us, it seems no year is an “off year” when it comes to understanding, protecting and engaging the youth vote.

Take Action: Want to be part of the effort to protect the youth vote? Rock the Vote has a tool for your website, blog or Facebook page. In less than five minutes, you can start registering your members, volunteers, readers, viewers, listeners, activists, students and friends.


Jan Richter is a retired clinical social worker and child psychotherapist, and long-time children's advocate and writes the SparkAction Update. Read her bio here.

Jan is doing a series of Update blogs, connecting and analyzing related resources and emerging policy developments.

Janis Richter