Mitt Romney Completely Misreads the Hopes And Dreams of Youth Voters

May 3, 2012 • Commentary
This article appeared in Forbes​.com on May 3, 2012.

If his Miami speech on January 27 serves as any guide, Mitt Romney may be missing a great opportunity to connect with the youth (18–29) vote. Here’s what he said:

Our young people have a great deal of concern. They’re a very humanitarian people. They’re concerned about issues like global warming and things of that nature, and they’re concerned about humanity

Judging from the most recent Survey of Young Americans from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), Romney’s got it about 100% wrong. By and large today’s young Americans are self‐​interested, isolationist, want handouts, and they rank global warming last among domestic issues. Sounds like the general public to me!

Harvard’s methodology is a bit obtuse but yields interesting results. It samples twenty issues in one‐​on‐​one comparisons. For example, it asks a subsample of its 3,000+ respondents, “which do you think is more important, combating the impacts of climate change or addressing social security”; then climate change versus reducing the federal deficit, etc. (result: climate lost both comparisons handily).

I have rearranged their data in a different fashion that allows one to rank their 20 issues in order of descending importance.

Readers may have seen a very incomplete version of this by Charles Blow in last Saturday’s New York Times. Probably to save space, only “domestic” issues were shown, but another matrix, with the remaining “international” ones is available at their online site.

The only place that I have been able to find the raw matrix is at the IOP site, and it lumps domestic and international in the same chart. This gives a slightly different impression with regard to climate change.

Anyway, I gave each issue one point each time it “beat” a competitor issue head‐​on, regardless of whether the margin was statistically significant (almost all were, thanks to the large sample size).

Here we go; I also indicate which were listed as “Domestic” or “International” in the Times’ presentation

1. Jobs and unemployment DOM

2. Ensuring affordable access to health care DOM

4. Addressing Social Security (tie) DOM

4. Creating a world‐​class education system (tie) DOM

4. Lowering the tax burden for all Americans (tie) DOM

4. Becoming energy independent (tie) DOM

7. Reducing the federal deficit DOM

9. Protecting individual liberties from government (tie) DOM

9. Preventing the spread of terrorism (tie) INT

10. Withdrawing from Afghanistan (tie) INT

10. Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon (tie) INT

12. Addressing income inequality DOM

13. Developing a comprehensive immigration policy DOM

14. Reducing the role of big money in U.S. elections DOM

(There is a large drop‐​off in support beneath this level)

16. Promoting peaceful resolution to Israel‐​Palestine (tie) INT

16. Promoting stable democracy in the Middle East/​North Africa (tie) INT

16. Combating the impacts of climate change (tie) DOM

18. Countering China’s rising influence INT

19. Solving the European debt crisis INT

20. Re‐​integrating North Korea into the world community INT

So what’s “humanitarian” here? “Affordable” health care sounds like “I want someone else to pay my doctor fees” The surveyed group certainly has a conflict of interest about a “world‐​class education”, given that many of the respondents were in some type of college or university. Lowering my taxes? No. The mirage of energy independence? Reducing the deficit? Getting the snoopy government out of my life? No, no, no.

And what about the dinosaur media’s mantra that it is the “young people” who are most concerned about climate change? Of all the issues designated “domestic”, it’s at rock bottom. But is it really a domestic issue? After all, any effective climate change mitigation program is going to have a substantial international component. So let’s call it both.

In that case, it comes in ahead of three other international issues, including a humanitarian one—“Solving” (whatever that means) the European debt mess. I think our students are writing the headline: Youth to Euros: Drop Dead.

Mr. Romney would do well to revisit his January assessment of young voters in light of the Harvard survey. Let Obama appeal to their penumbra of altruism. Instead, campaign for this demographic by promoting economic development, jobs, social security reform (read: investment in things other than our insolvent government), and reforming higher education by concentrating on teaching and research instead of the armies of administrators that are now employed to deal with the federal leviathan. And stay away from climate change, the Far East, and bailing out the Euros.

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