The Republican presidential candidates, except for Ron Paul, haven't been paying much attention to young voters in the primaries and caucuses so far. But any Republican nominee -- which is to say probably Mitt Romney, or maybe Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum -- had better be paying attention to them in the summer and fall.
The reason three of the four Republicans haven't paid much attention to young voters is that the under-30 folks have been turning out in the Republican contests in miniscule numbers.
According to entrance and exit polls, voters under 30 accounted for 15 percent of participants in Iowa, 12 percent in New Hampshire, 9 percent in South Carolina, 6 percent in Florida and 8 percent in Nevada.
By way of comparison, voters that age were 18 percent of the electorate in November 2008.
And, in that election, they voted 66 percent to 32 percent for Barack Obama over John McCain. Voters above that age favored Obama by only 50 percent to 49 percent. McCain would have won if the voting age were 35.
In this year's Republican contests, the big winner among young voters has been Ron Paul. His libertarian message -- on monetary policy, marijuana policy and foreign policy -- has brought out the under-30 voters, though many and perhaps most don't identify themselves as Republicans at all.
Paul got nearly half the young votes in Iowa and New Hampshire and carried the young voters -- and little else -- in Nevada. He narrowly edged Gingrich among young voters in South Carolina and finished second among them in Florida.
Young voters were not buying Mitt Romney's act in the first three contests. Only 13 percent of them voted for him in Iowa, 26 percent in New Hampshire and 16 percent -- the lowest among the Republicans -- in South Carolina.
He did do better later, carrying the 18-29 group with 41 percent in Florida, and he only ran 41 to 36 percent behind Paul in Nevada.
Nevertheless, it's fair to say that the candidate who seems overwhelmingly likely to be the Republican nominee hasn't shown much appeal to young voters.
That's problematic for the general election because, while young Americans have clearly soured somewhat on Barack Obama -- the change they hoped for, whatever it was, hasn't arrived -- they are still the most Democratic-inclined age group by a considerable margin.
A poll conducted for Generation Opportunity, a conservative group, reports that 43 percent of young voters are not satisfied with their current level of employment and 77 percent have delayed or expect to delay a major life change -- like buying a home, paying off student loans, moving or getting married.
It also found that majorities believe that the economy grows best when people can create jobs without government interference and that companies would hire more if business profits taxes were reduced.
A Pew Research poll of this Millennial Generation conducted last fall found that Obama's job approval was only 49 percent -- 17 percent below his 2008 support. Only 39 percent of white Millennials approved his performance.
I have long thought that there was a tension between Millennials' former enthusiasm for Obama and the thrust of the Obama Democrats' policies.
This is an iPod/Facebook 21st century generation. Young Americans want to customize their own world. They want to shape their own destinies, not be part of a herd that is shepherded from one pasture to another. They like the advice of Obama appointee Anne-Marie Slaughter: Design your own profession.
The Obama policies are redolent of mid-20th century welfare-state planning. From Obamacare's unaccountable boards determining the care patients get to his affection for high-speed rail that will forever run on the same tracks, choice is limited or eliminated. Central planners determine your future.
It's as if every iPod had an identical play list and every Facebook page were the same.
Romney and the other Republicans can claim that their policies, by providing choices and opening markets to spur innovation that no central authority can plan, will enable young people to choose their futures.
Obama likes to emphasize the Obamacare provision that lets "children" up to age 26 stay on their parents' health insurance. Apparently that polls well with Millennials.
Republicans should counter that they want young people to choose their own health plan, from firms competing for their business. An economy liberated from Obama's taxes and regulations can provide more choices and opportunities.
Romney and the others haven't been speaking to young voters directly yet. They need to get started.
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