Young vote doesn’t matter, according to St. Edward’s professor


Abbott leads Davis with voters under 30; he leads 52 percent to Davis’s 25 percent, according to the recent Texas Lyceum poll.

Take a look at the two most recent presidential elections. President Barack Obama won voters under 30 thanks, in part, to his campaign’s use of Facebook and Twitter. The campaign even announced its pick for vice president via text message.

Twenty-six years — an eternity in politics — have passed since the GOP has wrangled the youth vote away from the Democrats. What does the Republican Party have to do to become competitive with 18- to 29-year-old voters?

Chad Long, assistant professor of political science at St. Edward’s University, says the GOP must move away from social issues that ignite its base and embrace a Reaganesque message again.

“Reagan was effective at pulling in young voters and it was a message of optimism,” Long said.

In 1984, Reagan’s re-election bid against former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, the Morning in America Again ad, showed voters how much he changed the country during his first four years in office.

The ad hit two themes: the economy and the track record of former Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Mondale.  

The primary focus of the ad was how much the economy had grown since 1980, when Carter and Mondale were at the helm.

“Why would we ever want to return where we were less than four short years ago?” the announcer asked.

“It wasn’t that Reagan was so popular,” Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s, said. “It was that (Mondale) was just so unpopular. When you look at it at the end of the day, Reagan took 49 states. He lost Minnesota and D.C. Pretty much everyone went Republican that year.”

Today’s political environment is different. Back then, social issues were not as important. Now, social issues can make or break a campaign, especially with voters under 30.

Gay marriage. Marijuana legalization. Abortion. These are examples of controversial issues that many young people have strong opinions on and these may determine where their votes go.

“Young people are often single-issue voters on heavily emotional issues,” Amy Nabozny, president of College Republicans at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “They have no concept of the national debt, but understand that their gay friend can’t get married.”

While Nabozny says that some young people vote on a single issue, it would help the GOP if it shifted its positions on some social issues.

“The Republican Party being against gay marriage goes against our values of allowing the individual to make decisions that are best for themselves,” Nabozny said. “Small government extends to people’s personal lives.”

Nabozny believes her party should not budge on abortion.

“If the Republican Party moves one way or the other on social issues it should be because of our values, not popularity,” Nabozny said. “Once we start to ignore our principles, everything else begins to fall away. I would argue supporting gay marriage, yet opposition to abortion, both value individual rights.”

Even a Democrat agrees that the Republican Party should not try to forget its core values and principles.

“I wouldn’t want to pull in one crowd and throw out another,” John Wooding, St. Edward’s president emeritus of College Democrats said.

Wooding believes that if the Republican Party softens its stance on same-sex marriage it could definitely lure young people.

“For us, we grew up in a time that is more accepting of that,” Wooding said. “Obviously, it will probably irk some of the older voters.”

Young people’s stances on social issues are more in lockstep with Democrats. They support same-sex marriage. They support women’s reproductive rights. They support immigration reform. The only issue where young people break with Democrats (and Republicans) is on the issue of marijuana legalization.

According to a Gallup poll, Americans 18 to 29 overwhelmingly support legalization of pot with 67 percent for.

While the national parties have yet to support full legalization of the drug, the Texas Democratic Party endorsed marijuana decriminalization in its 2014 platform.

One notable Republican who agrees with Texas Democrats on decriminalization is Republican Gov. Rick Perry. During an interview with Jimmy Kimmel at South by Southwest last spring, Perry discussed the issue.

“You don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for having a joint,” Perry said.

Sharing Perry’s view is the woman who is trying to succeed him as governor, Democrat Wendy Davis. She believes that law enforcement has bigger issues to deal with than arresting someone with a small amount of pot. However, Davis did not say whether or not she supports full legalization.

“I believe the voters of Texas will ultimately make a determination whether they feel that’s right for our state,” Davis said. “I do think it needs to be (a) voter initiated referendum and, as governor, I certainly would support putting that towards the voters to let them decide.”

For Nabozny, the Republican Party should support pot legalization because it fits into the party’s values. Wooding, the former campus Democrat, thinks the issue could be Republicans’ way to compete for the youth vote.

“I feel like that it could work,” Wooding said. “I don’t like to think of people my age are that focused on a single issue, but you could certainly peel away voters if you are for it.”

Does the Youth Vote Matter?

Trying to woo the youth vote is fine, but does it actually matter?

There have been presidents who have won the White House without securing voters under 30.

“When we think about 2008, they were important to a certain extent,” Smith said. “President Obama still would’ve won without such young support. He had support across the board.”

Smith said that Latinos, women and African American votes were more important than the youth vote for Obama. These are the groups that helped propel him to the White House in 2008 and 2012.

With those groups, their identities remain constant. The youth voter, however, does not. Young people turn into old people.

“For the Republican Party, they’ve been moderately successful by really, not openly seeking young voters,” Smith said. “Part of the problem is that young voters don’t vote their weight, so parties ignore them.”

The Democratic Party did not ignore young voters when it successfully amended the Constitution to expand the electorate to include 18-year-olds in 1971. Anytime the electorate is expanded it is to the benefit to the party lobbying for the expansion,according to Smith.

Since the addition of the 26th Amendment, the youth vote has been a reliable voting bloc for Democrats. However, since this group does not reliably vote, candidates must rely on other voting blocs to win, like seniors.

If a candidate wants the youth and senior votes they must find an issue that attracts both, but this is difficult. Young voters and senior voters care about different issues.

“What do you call a campaign that targets new voters and young people?” Smith said. “Loser.”


Even without changing its message, the Republican Party does have a small segment of young people voting for them. The party has three candidates running for statewide office in Texas under the age of 45:  For comptroller, Glenn Hegar, 43; land commissioner, George P. Bush, 38; and railroad commissioner, Ryan Sitton, 39.

Voters are not paying attention to these races, though. They are watching the gubernatorial race between Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Davis.

Both Wooding and Nabozny believe that Davis will win the youth vote.

“The only reason young people know who she is is because of her filibuster that had huge support over social media,” Nabozny said. “Even celebrities and Obama were tweeting about it. Otherwise, she’d just be another random state senator.”

Both are wrong, at least according to the polls.

Abbott leads Davis with voters under 30; he leads 52 percent to Davis’s 25 percent, according to the recent Texas Lyceum poll.

Since people tend to pick up their party affiliation from their parents it should be no surprise that young Texans will continue to vote for Republicans like their parents. Texas is a conservative state and has been regardless of the party in charge.

“What issues does Davis have that resonate with all young people?” Smith said. “She’s big into education and young kids don’t care about that.”

Follow Jacob on Twitter for more!