David Frum observes that the Republicans have lost the youth vote and offers suggestions for getting it back.
There’s no use denying the facts, and they will become much more pronouced in the upcoming election. Obama really will get more young people to the polls, and he is being nominated by the young. McCain is old and being nominated by the old.
According to Frum, social conservatism is hurting Republicans among the young. Here I think the facts are more ambiguous than he says. Young people today are slighty more secular, much more accepting of homosexuality (including gay marriage), and somewhat less judgmental about unmarried women having children.
On the other hand, there are a lot of enthusiastic young evangelicals and "neo-orthodox" believers. Young religious Americans tend to be more serious or "conservative" theologically than their parents. There’s also a real rebellion against the embrace of unbounded sexual permissiveness of the Nineties. Most of all, young people are increasingly pro-life. So Frum does well to say that Republicans should campaign against Roe, while making it clear that the point of reversing Roe is to return real choice to the American people—acting through the states—about abortion.
A fair-and-balanced view of McCain and the youth vote: It’s probably an advantage that he’s manly and honorable. It may be an advantage in some ways that he doesn’t seem to be religiously conservative or even Christian. But he doesn’t appeal to those among the young who are animated by moral and "life" concerns, and so they may well remain unmobilized. Campaigning in a pointed and aggressive way against Roe is unlikely to be a centerpiece of McCain’s campaign. So the young most likely to vote this time are those attracted to the cool and charming appeal to (generational) change of Barack. Insofar as the young have become the most libertarian Americans, it’s going to be tough for McCain to win them over.
But the big concern may not be McCain’s strengths and weaknesses. Republicans in general seem old and incompetent, to some extent victims of their own successes and chained to their obvious failures. The talent pool really hasn’t been refreshed much on our team since 1994. Obama is something NEW, or at least seems like he is.
I may be overplaying this problem. Old people get to vote too, our society is rapidly aging, religiously observant Americans are having a disproportionate number of the children, and the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the fastest growing religions in the country. Our future may well be a lot less secularist than Frum thinks.