Can the GOP win over young voters frustrated with Washington?

The arc of the Occupy movement is a warning sign for Republicans.

Katie LaPotin, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, February 11, 2012

Young voters took to the streets to vent their frustration with Washington heading into 2012, but there is little chance the GOP can capitalize on their mood. That’s because the Republican presidential candidate best positioned to capture the youth vote is one of the least likely to win the nomination.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul has consistently won the youth vote in the early nominating contests. In Nevada, for instance, one survey showed Paul winning 41 percent of the youth vote compared to Mitt Romney’s 36 percent.

If the Republican Party is serious about winning over young voters in November, they need to stop squabbling with each other over inconsequential issues. Many of the protesters in the Occupy movement, who spent months camped out in city parks and other public places, fell into the demographic that voted overwhelming for President Obama in 2008. They believed at the time that Obama would be their savior, the man whose hopeful vision for the nation would fend off the looming economic downturn.

And over the past three years the president has not completely failed his youthful supporters. He included a provision in the Democrats’ healthcare law that allows Americans under the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ healthcare plans regardless of their financial or marital situation. Obama has also devoted time to restructuring the college loan system. He has put in place ways to make it easier to pay back federal loans and stricter regulations on private lenders for higher education.

Still, the Occupy movement was an attempt by America’s youth to vent their frustrations with the status quo. Hundreds of thousands of protestors camped out in city parks and other public places, living off donated food and proclaiming that they are a part of the “99 percent” of Americans struggling to make ends meet today. Despite their frustrations, these voters are unlikely to vote Republican in November.

Part of this has to deal with younger voters’ positions on social and environmental issues, but much of it has to do with the constant squabbling and the lack of outreach by this year’s GOP presidential contenders. There’s been little attempt, for instance, to explain that Wall Street is only one of the many factors that led to the current global meltdown. Instead, the focus has been on a more general critique of spending under the Obama administration or, say, blasting Mitt Romney for his involvement in Bain Capital.

Katie LaPotin is an account executive at Advocacy Ink, a full-service public relations, communications and political consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. Previously, she worked at a Republican polling firm and on several campaigns in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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