Ron Paul and the Fountain of Youth
by Jessica Iannetta | Syracuse University
With Ron Paul’s decision to stop actively campaigning, the youth vote is now more wide open than ever.
While Obama won the youth vote handily in 2008 with his Internet presence and grassroots campaign, the youth haven’t received him with the same enthusiasm this time around. Many are disillusioned and feel Obama has failed to deliver on his campaign promises.
“Last time, I had more excitement mainly because it was the first time I was voting. But his campaign seemed more hopeful,” said Matthew Goo, a 22-year-old Colorado University student in an April 25 Yahoo! News article.
In frustration, many young people turned to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, drawn to his libertarian positions and his straight talking style. These ideas make Paul different from many other politicians and have helped attract the youth vote.
“Ron Paul stands up for positions supported by the people, but not mainstream politicians,” said Nancy Wilson, a junior at the University of Kansas, in a February 19 Daily Kansan article.
For his part, Paul has played up the role youth will play in the election and emphasized his ability to connect with them.
“I’m the one person that can take young people away from Obama. But nobody in leadership’s ever come and said ‘Ron, what is it that the young people like about what you’re doing?’” Paul said on Piers Morgan Tonight in March. “I think they’re afraid of the answer, because it might be, well maybe a little less war, and maybe a little less spending.”
In general, the 76 year-old’s connection with the country’s youth may be part of a wider trend of young people leaning libertarian. In a May 2 Forbes article, John Zogby wrote that many young voters disagree with both liberals and conservatives on each doctrine’s core beliefs. This may cause these voters to abandon both major parties and instead vote for the libertarian candidate.
While Paul is still hovering on the outside of the Republican primaries in order to influence the party platform, Zogby writes “Had Paul chosen to be the nominee of the national Libertarian Party, he would have had the biggest impact of any third party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.”
In short, Paul would have gotten much of the protest vote, the vote of the many people in the U. S., both young and otherwise, who are fed up with the two major parties. It is unclear whether Gary E. Johnson, the likely Libertarian nominee, will have the same effect.
Despite the hype, many experts have argued that Paul’s affinity with the youth would never have been able to carry him to the nomination. Paul’s strongest constituency may be young voters, but there simply aren’t enough of them in the bigger states to propel Paul to the nomination. He struggled even with the youth vote itself in bigger states. Paul won the youth vote in Iowa and New Hampshire but didn’t have the network in place to win the much bigger youth vote in Florida.
A sophisticated campaign network is the biggest difference between Obama capturing the youth vote in 2008 and Paul’s attempt to grab it in 2012. While Obama had a large, sophisticated and well-funded network to help him get 66 percent of the youth vote in 2008, Paul had none of these supports in place. In the end, regardless of which group became Paul’s strongest constituency, it is unluckily he would have had the ability to organize them in a meaningful way.
Nonetheless, the Republicans aren’t ready to surrender the youth vote just yet. The same day Paul announced he would stop actively campaigning, it was announced that a new GOP super PAC called Crossroads Generation had formed in Iowa. The super PAC is aimed at youth voters and has spent around $50,000 on online ads targeted at young swing voters in the key states of Iowa, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
But as the two major parties fight to win the youth swing vote as well as the votes of Paul supporters, the sad reality may be that these voters won’t vote for either party and will instead choose not to vote at all.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Paul’s positions, it appears that he has mobilized large segments of the population that don’t normally vote in large numbers, particularly young people. And with America facing a critical election this year, adding more voices to the conversation, if only for a short period of time, is never a bad thing.Jessica Iannetta is a NGJ News & Politics Reporter, as well as a newspaper journalism and political science major at Syracuse University. She also serves as a staff writer for the The Daily Orange, SU's student newspaper.