February 11, 2008


Can They? It’s Doubtful: Young voters will help, but can’t elect, Obama (Mark Stricherz, 2/11/08, National Review)

Obama’s appeal to the young helps rather than hurts him. But Obama cannot expect young people to deliver him the presidency, to “reshape the political landscape” this fall. To achieve that feat, he would need to overcome two political laws.

The first law is that young voters are notoriously fickle. They might vote; then again, they might not. Fred Dutton in the McGovern campaign found this out the hard way. “What surprised me,” he told me in 2003, “was that young people didn’t vote until they were 35.” John Kerry learned a similar lesson. While Kerry won 56 percent of the youth vote, young people voted in the same numbers as they did in 2000, and this was despite a massive registration drive by progressives. Obama’s strategists may have already concluded that the youth vote is limited. On Super Tuesday, Obama’s strength among young voters was trumped by Clinton’s appeal to older voters. As Ronald Brownstein explained in a post-election analysis:

In each of those states, and almost all of the other major contests on the board, seniors over 60 cast a larger percentage of the vote than young people did. And those voters almost invariably preferred Clinton: She won seniors everywhere except Illinois, Georgia, and Connecticut. In hotly contested states such as Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, Clinton won about three-fifths or more of the vote among seniors.

The second law is that registering young people is not nearly as important as wooing swing voters. For every person who switches his or her vote, a candidate must register two new voters. The McGovern campaign was obsessed about registering young people, to the point of plastering on its walls the figures of each state’s young voters. In so doing, they forgot to appeal to undecideds. Kerry’s strategists did the same.

Perhaps Obama can break one of those political laws, or both. If he wins his party’s nomination, the 46-year-old stands a shot against the 72-year-old John McCain. Even so, Obama would need to find a bloc of voters outside his coalition of blacks and yuppies.

But the history of the post-1968 Democratic party suggests that Obama would struggle in wooing a new constituency. The national party has pursued the votes of young people, minorities, and liberated women first and foremost — and those of the white working class and Catholics second, if at all. As a result, only two of the party’s last seven presidential nominees have won. Obama could be the third winner, but he will need more than hope.

...and then voters go out and do the same thing as last time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2008 1:08 PM

One of the reasons they think it's "for real" this time is that there really have been more youth out in the caucuses & whatnot that Obama has won. That won't affect the actual election, though, because these are all the same youth who were radicalized first by the War, and then by the Dean & Kerry campaigns. Obama has harnessed them for his purposes within the Democratic party, but in November they can't make up for their small overall numbers by showing up for a caucus.

Posted by: Timothy at February 11, 2008 2:16 PM

"The national party has pursued the votes of young people, minorities, and liberated women..."

"liberated women"? Those women who don't vote Democratic are not liberated? Males who don't vote Democrats are sexists. Females who don't vote Democrats are un-liberated. Whites who don't vote Obama are racists. Blacks who don't vote Obama are uncle Toms. Geeze.

Posted by: ic at February 11, 2008 3:03 PM