Politics 2012: Millennials savvy voting bloc searching for solutions

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  Sept. 9, 2012 at 4:06 AM
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If you think the voting bloc known as millennials are a bunch of folks who care more about themselves than the world in which they live, you'd be off base -- way off base.

This group gets its news 24/7, is tuned in and turned on to a variety of traditional and social media and is well aware of what's what globally and locally, said Generation Opportunity, a non-profit, non-partisan U.S. organization focused on young voters ages 18-29.

The youth vote turned out big time for candidate Barack Obama -- 66 percent -- in the 2008 election, yet his support within this group has dropped by double digits this election cycle, creating a "major problem" for the incumbent, said Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, based in Arlington, Va.

Conway, citing a Service Employees International Union survey, said Obama enjoys 49 percent support among millennials, compared to 41 percent for Republican challenger Mitt Romney and 10 percent indicating they were undecided.

"If you're 60 days out and enjoyed 66 percent of vote [in 2008] and you're now at 49 percent -- that's a major problem," Conway said. "That doesn't mean it will translate to [support for] the opponent but it gives the opponent an opportunity to have his solutions looked at, vetted and thought over."

Factor in the 10 percent undecided and the bloc becomes a key voting group come November that is in play -- and looking for substance, not flash, from the candidates, he said.

Obama and Romney must offer substantive solutions and real discussions about opportunities to tap into the youth vote, he said.

"For Romney, it's a chance to substantively connect, and for Obama it's a chance to substantively re-connect," Conway said.

That same Daily Kos-SEIU survey found 57 percent of the 18-29 group said they disapprove of Obama's job performance, while 37 percent said they approve. Results also indicated 75 percent of millennials said they thought the country is on the wrong track while 22 percent said the country is on the right path. (Results are based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 millennials July 19-22, with a margin of error of 3.1 percent.)

The un- and underemployment rate for young people now is 12.7 percent and 1.7 million more are no longer factored by the federal government, a recent Generation Opportunity survey indicated.

"The issue of unemployment in addition to lack of full employment is the one issue cuts across every political belief and economic level," Conway said.

When a bloc such as the 18- to 29-year-olds has been faced with economic-related issues for a while, not only the millennials' daily lives are affected, but their long-term decisions, as well, he said.

"It's stunning the types of things that they're putting off or choosing not to do," Conway said, ticking off life changes such as marriage, home purchase or starting a family. "That alone is very indicative of how [this group] indicates the candidates are being viewed."

The bloc also has altered its lifestyle, from changing grocery lists to looking for a second job, and from selling more personal items to make ends meet to skipping vacations or gifts for special occasions, he said.

The country has been experiencing "its longest sustained level of unemployment of underemployment since World War II," Conway said. "And these folks know it."

"This is their normal."

Generation Opportunity says its mission is educating, organizing, and mobilizing 18- to 29-year olds on near- and long-term economic challenges facing the country so they can be engaged in the political process.

Millennials aren't looking for a handout, but a chance to "get into the arena and compete," he said. "All they want is an opportunity to work. There's nothing more American or honorable than that."

In 2008, the driving interest was a transformational political figure while this time around the driving force has moved away from the individual and onto the issues.

Based on Generation Opportunity's data, millennials are concerned about the national debt and consider it the top national security issue, along with the country's indebtedness and energy dependence, Conway said.

"It's a pretty savvy generation," he said, which doesn't like "unchecked spending."

"We think they're very connected, well informed and have a clear view of what they think is good for the country" and its presence on the global stage, said Conway, who served four presidents and three governors.

Based on Generation Opportunities data and review of other material, Conway said stereotyping youth voters as disengaged "is a false narrative that does them a disservice."

For either candidate to fail to go into depth on the issues "is to disrespect young voters," he said. "I'm hoping for a thorough conversation about what the solutions are, not something glib in hopes of getting a win."

Conway said the politics of today's youth isn't the same as the politics of their parents.

"People are far less interested in party label and far more interested in issues and solutions," he said.

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