Ron Paul is the Betty White of Republican politics. Like the famous Golden Girl whose Facebook-wielding fans helped fuel a comeback, Paul’s national recognition rests on youthful internet users. They are his core and without them his trailing campaign would be even further behind.
The Baltimore Sun reports today that Paul won with youth voters — defined as citizens under 30 — in the past three nominating contests, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina:
While the 12-time congressman has failed to win any of the first three voting states, he’s captured the youth vote every time, sometimes dominantly.
In Iowa, 48 percent of the under-30 caucus-goers went for Paul, compared with 23 percent for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and 14 percent for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In New Hampshire, Paul garnered 47 percent of the youth vote, compared with 26 for Romney.
In South Carolina, Paul carried the youth vote, yet again. He garnered 31 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old vote in comparison to 28 percent for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 21 percent for Santorum.
Not all of Paul’s supporters are in this demographic, but they’re by far the most high-profile — or at least most noted — supporters of his campaign. So why isn’t Paul doing as well among older Americans, like those 65 and older?
Foreign policy may be the biggest policy hurdle in Paul’s quest to win over older American voters. Unlike his Republican rivals, and most of the party, Paul prefers a relatively radical non-interventionist approach to the rest of the world. For example, the Texas Congressman thinks that sanctions against Iran, the largest GOP target, qualify as an “act of war.” Seventy-two percent of the Republican Party wants the United States to take a tough stand on Iran, according to a Pew “Public Priorities” survey released Monday. Younger voters are more in line with Paul on the U.S. foreign policy role.
Two-thirds of millenials think militaristic force can breed anti-American hate, while only 46 percent of baby boomers believe the same. So-called “silents,” people over 65, overwhelmingly oppose that idea: 46% told Pew the military is the best way to protect national security. Those folks clearly wouldn’t be inclined to back Paul.
The media is also to blame, suggest some Paul supporters. By constantly describing the congressman as “the youth candidate,” journalists are either intentionally or unintentionally telling baby boomers and silents that Paul’s more of a pop cultural phenomenon than a potent politician. And the fact that most older Americans get their news from an anti-Paul Fox — the median age of the number one cable news channel is 65-years old, according to Nielsen — the information divide may be driving down Paul’s popularity among more seasoned voters.
Kevin Kervick at the Manchester Independent Examiner believes Ron Paul’s supporters may be turning off older voters, too. “Some Paul supporters consider themselves Anarchists or Anarcho-capitalists. Older conservative voters will never resonate with a political movement that tolerates anarchist sentiment,” he writes.
In that vein, the Ron Paul campaign and Paul’s supporters need to be more outwardly patriotic. Congressman Paul is attempting to do this. But many of his supporters, in their efforts to be stalwart advocates for peace, come across as indifferent to American exceptionalism. Loving one’s country does not need to come across as primitive jingoism. Older conservative voters appreciate patriotism.
Tom Woods, libertarian author of “Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century,” is clearly worried about the dearth of older support for Ron Paul. So, just as Sarah Silverman did to help boost Obama’s standing with Jewish voters in 2008, Woods just launched “Operation Grandma” to urge younger voters to make Paul’s case to their grandparents and help craft a larger appeal for Paul’s campaign.
But Paul may also be his own worst enemy: he’s not campaigning in Florida, a state with an older voting audience, to instead focus on other states, especially those that allow an open primary in which independents can boost his numbers. His decision will likely displease the GOP’s elderly voters in the Sunshine State, and perhaps signal to those elsewhere that Paul isn’t interested in their vote.
All of this may be moot, though, because it is increasingly unlikely Paul will get the Republican presidential nomination, leaving one question: can the ultimate nominee fire up young conservatives like Paul, or will the Texas Congressman’s youthful supporters feel jilted and alienated by the party as a whole?