This column was reprinted by permission of L. Brent Bozell and Creators
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Reagan's Youth Appeal
After CNN and YouTube organized a
fairly silly and yet seriously liberal presidential debate for the Democratic
presidential candidates this summer, GOP contenders developed cold feet about
placing their ambitions at the feet of these groups. When only two GOP
candidates accepted invitations for a proposed CNN/YouTube debate in
September, the event was called off. In response, a set of conservative
bloggers started a website called Savethedebate.com, urging that "Republicans
cannot afford to write off the Internet" and risk "denigrating" the youth vote
and the way they communicate. Five GOP candidates have now agreed; the new
date is November 28.
These bloggers are fine conservatives, but no one should be under the illusion
that writing off one website is "writing off the Internet." That said, GOP
candidates do not have the Democrats' luxury of ignoring hostile media outlets
like FOX as if they did not exist. But hopefully the Republicans' reluctance
to sign up may have convinced CNN to avoid the usual bombardment of questions
from the left. CNN executive David Bohrman insisted that conservatives will
get their Internet video questions in for the proposed GOP debate, but
conservatives are understandably wary. They didn't exactly get serious
questions in to the Democrats in their YouTube turn, certainly not in the way
to match the body blows Republicans will surely receive from liberals at their
Media bias aside, there is also no question that Republicans have a lot of
work to do with the youth vote, and if mastering new technologies is part of
that work, then it should be embraced with gusto. Consider how much better
Republicans could be doing with new voters right now, and how important
capturing young voters can be in creating a lifelong political bond. Think
back to the Reagan Revolution. For a man constantly questioned as too old a
man to be president, Ronald Reagan did a terrific job of winning young voters
to his cause, and keeping them for the long haul.
Gallup election-year surveys showed the Democrats winning by larger margins
among younger voters (under 30s) throughout the '60s and '70s, and into 1980.
But along came Reagan, and all that changed. In 1984 and 1988, younger voters
swung heavily into the GOP column, picking Reagan over Mondale by 20 points
and George H.W. Bush over Dukakis by 26.
This might come as a surprise to many because the media only celebrate the
youth vote when it's a liberal vote. Did you know that, in 1984, the youngest
voters were Reagan's greatest asset? In a pre-election poll taken for Time
magazine, voters aged 18 to 24 said they were backing or leaning toward Reagan
by a margin of 45 points - 63 percent to 18 - a lead nearly ten points wider
than in any other age bracket. Recent Pew surveys show that even after 20 long
years, these Reagan Youth voters remain the strongest supporters of GOP
candidates. While other age groups show a strong identification with the
Democrats, Republicans still match the Democrats among fortysomethings.
Since 2002, the Republicans have trailed badly among younger voters, Karl
Rove's alleged genius notwithstanding, CNN exit polls after the 2000 election
showed George W. Bush trailed Al Gore by only two points, 46 percent to 48.
But since then, young voters have swung dramatically and solidly toward the
Democrats. CNN exit polls in 2004 showed that John Kerry beat Bush only among
voters under 30 (by a 54 to 45 percent margin). In the 2006 elections, young
voters gave Democrats a whopping advantage of 60 to 38 percent, far more than
any other age group.
What was the Reagan magic with the young? Two crucial factors were patriotism
and optimism, two themes that clearly distinguished him from the
Carter-Mondale-Dukakis malaise message. Reagan boldly stated that government
was the problem, not the solution. But that message was stated positively, as
a tribute to all that We the People could do in all of our "private sector"
strivings. Internationally, Reagan did not merely state that America was great
because it was expansive and prosperous; our country was great because its
founding ideas of liberty and representative democracy were great.
These messages are still awaiting any Republican contender eager to inspire
the young in an era when liberals have cast America in a harshly negative
light, as oppressing our citizenry and the world while fighting an allegedly
nonexistent terrorist threat. Republicans would do well not just to re-visit
these ideas but then also to learn how to deliver them to the young. It was
good to see conservatives and CNN/YouTube resolve their differences.
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