Libertarian Leanings of Young Voters Dampen Obama’s Appeal

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Mitt Romney has spent months selling himself to the Republican base. Now, Barack Obama is working overtime trying to re-sell himself to his base of voters age 18-29.Team Obama knows that hard times and the growing libertarian leanings of young voters will make them a more difficult target than four years ago.

Just as there is no doubt Romney will easily carry reluctant Tea Partiers and social conservatives, Obama will again win the age cohort I call First Globals. But it seems unlikely he will again win 66% of their votes, or that they will equal their turnout of 2008, which matched the historic high set in 1972, the first year the voting age was lowered to 18. Four years ago, First Globals made up 18% of all voters. In 2010, that fell to 12%.

Very few of Obama’s young supporters from 2008 are likely defect to Romney. Some may not vote, and I see the possibility of others abandoning both parties and instead choosing the Libertarian candidate.

My most recent polling with JZ Analytics found Obama’s approval rating among the 18-29 group in the high 50 percentile, up from where it had been a few months earlier. Approval rating is a good indicator of whether voters will support an incumbent, so you can see Obama is behind where he needs to be among younger voters. Obama’s youth vote problem is most acute among those 18-24 who entered the job market since he took office and are not finding work that meets their expectations.

Last week, Harvard’s Institute of Politics released an online study of more than 3,000 U.S. adults ages 18-29. This exhaustive look at the policy priorities of First Globals finds the economy and jobs are far and away their highest concern. That data point and others show why support for Obama has slipped since 2008. They favor Obama over Romney, 43%-26%. There is an 11-point difference in Obama’s margin between those 25-29 (23 points) and those 18-24 (12 points.) Congressional Democrats have a higher approval than Republicans, 39%-25%.

However, on some key issues, majorities of First Globals are not doctrinaire liberals. The poll found less than majorities agree with liberals on some of their most cherished beliefs. For example: 44% agree health insurance is a right government should provide for those who can’t afford it, 43% agree with the same statement about food and shelter, 37% agree government should spend more to reduce poverty, 20% agree government spending is an effective way to economic growth and 28% agree government should do more to curb climate change even at the expense of economic growth. (That last number has to hurt environmentalists.)

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