The Iowa caucuses serve as an early glimpse of the front-runners of the non-incumbent presidential nominations. They tell us a lot about what’s on the minds of Americans, including young voters. Like in 2008 when then-senator Barack Obama received a whopping 66 percent of the vote from people ages 18-29, this year the pivotal youth voters have a strong preference — Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Receiving 48 percent of the youth vote in Iowa, Paul beat out overall victor Mitt Romney and runner-up Rick Santorum by a margin of 35 percent and 25 percent, respectively. In Tuesday night’s New Hampshire primary, Paul received 47 percent of the youth vote.
Paul’s considerable margin of victory among the youth tells us more about America’s young voters than simply their preference of nominee. The results illustrate emerging attitudes and trends in young voters.
As a libertarian, Paul promotes the idea of a limited government, even more so than do his conservative opponents.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010, Paul stated that, “Personal liberty is the purpose of government; to protect liberty, not to run your personal lives, not to run the economy and not to pretend that we can tell the world how they ought to live.” In congruence with this statement, Paul advocates reduced federal interference in issues of civil liberties such as gay marriage and drug use.
Young Americans tend to equate the idea of diminished government interference with increased independence, making Paul an alluring candidate. Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy ideals also appeal to voters raised in a culture of “do what’s best for you.” In recent generations, enlightened self-interest has come to replace communal responsibility, and it’s demonstrated by the 48 percent of young voters who chose Paul at the caucuses.
Unlike his counterparts, Paul extends the idea of scaling back government to the U.S. military, where he wants to cut both size and spending. Since the Vietnam War and onward, the military has been a source of great concern to young Americans as they come of age to be citizens of service. And, as a costly and controversial decade-long war comes to a close, Americans are even more inclined to advocate for a smaller military role.
America’s youth also greatly admire Paul’s willingness to halt excessive spending. As the federal debt stands at $15 trillion, younger generations become increasingly aware that they are the ones who will be responsible for stabilizing America’s spending and controlling the debt. One way of doing so, according to Paul, is to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security — two programs that do not benefit American citizens until their later years.
“Stabilizing the budget should be atop every candidate’s list,” LSA freshman and first-time voter Beatrice Volkmar told me in an interview. “Of the Republican nominees, Ron Paul is the most willing to cut spending that America cannot afford. His cuts might be extreme, but so is the debt.”
What makes Paul such a viable candidate to young adults is that he represents radical change. You don’t need to look further than Obama’s 2008 campaign to understand that as optimists, and perhaps even idealists, the youth believe in the benefits and possibility of change. While more weathered voters view Paul’s positions as unrealistic, extreme and risky, the young see them as quick and effective fixes to festering problems.
Though endorsements by the youth alone are unlikely to carry Ron Paul all the way to GOP nomination, Obama serves as an example of the impact young voters can have on an election. In 2008 he received 66 percent of the youth vote. Without it, he could very well have lost the race. Ron Paul — though accruing a smaller percentage of young votes — potentially stands in a similar position. If Americans can learn anything from their youth in the last election and so far in the Republican primaries, it’s that the young like radical change, even if it may be unrealistic to achieve. Political risk takers of today enjoy support from the generations that do not yet have much to lose.
Sarah Rohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.