Mitt Romney’s challenge among young voters might seem so daunting that his party would just give up on trying to appeal to them. Romney is manifestly uncool, and he is challenging the coolest president in American history.
And so Romney and Republicans are not trying to make young people like them. But that does not mean they are ignoring the youth vote. On Monday the Romney campaign announced the formation of “Young Americans for Romney leadership team.”
Romney’s allies on the right are using a purely negative approach to youth-oriented messaging. They offer no positive agenda; they merely characterize Obama’s record in the most depressing terms possible. Karl Rove’s nominally independent conservative group has launched a youth outreach arm called Crossroads Generation. It has posted two misleading videos on its website.
The first beats up Obama over the rising cost of college, without noting that Obama’s measures to aid college students have actually made the net cost of college hold steady. It also leaves out the fact that Romney has not offered a college affordability plan.
The second, posted on Monday, called “60 Seconds on Health Care Reform and Young Americans,” offers a bizarre analysis. It acknowledges that that the provision in the Affordable Care Act allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 27 is appealing. But it claims this doesn’t matter because “states already allow” them to. Some states do, and some don’t, but by this is an incredibly weak argument against guaranteeing the same rights to every young person in the country.
The ad then claims that even the Obama administration admits that young people will have to pay more than they need to for health insurance, because of the individual mandate.
This is a very strange way of looking at the insurance market. Currently, if you are young and you want health insurance but you make more than the federal poverty level, you have to buy subpar insurance for a high price because that is all the individual market offers. Under the ACA, you will be more likely to qualify for Medicaid, because the eligibility threshold is being raised, and quite likely to qualify for federal subsidies, which go up to 400 percent of the poverty line. Even if you make too much to qualify for either, you will be buying into a market that offers better insurance—thanks to new regulations—for a lower cost, thanks to the individual mandate forcing the young and healthy the market.
So collectively the young and healthy will be paying more to subsidize the sick or middle-aged. But one day the young and healthy will be older and sicker. In the meantime, they get health insurance. Granted, some young people may not want to pay anything for health insurance, but if you are a young person who did want health insurance, the ACA will make you pay less for it, not more.
Young people who choose not to get health insurance are simply free-riders mooching off society. If they get into a car accident, they go to the emergency room and the rest of us pick up the tab. So for the handful of young people who make more than 400 percent of the poverty line, don’t get employer-based health insurance and want to mooch off everyone else if they get sick, this will mean having to pay their fair share. Cry me a river.
The anti-Obamacare ad, of course, offers nothing in the way of a better alternative to providing insurance for the uninsured, solving the free rider problem or lowering costs.
Crossroads Generation maintains that they are offering a positive Republican vision to young people, but they continue to avoid offering any specifics. “We think that economic issues are going to be the decisive ones in this election, and that Republicans have an opportunity to make the case to young people that their policies would do better. Our goal is to be a part of the conversation so that young voters are hearing from both sides—both about why Obama's policies have been a letdown and how we think they can do better,” says Kristen Soltis, spokeswoman for the group. “It is critical for Republicans to persuade and to turn out young voters.”
The Romney campaign itself offers some vague hand-waving about how Romney’s intention to reduce the deficit and boost job growth will benefit young people. But he offers little to nothing in terms of a specific agenda on youth issues such as the affordability of higher education.
That’s because the Republican outreach to young people is best understood not as messaging but as part of their effort to select a more favorable electorate. As the 2010 midterms demonstrated, lower turnout among young voters and non-whites will favor Republicans. The Republican attack on voting rights is meant to reduce the number of young people and minorities who can vote.
But they are also hoping to simply make Obama so unappealing to those groups that they are less likely to show up at the polls in the first place. “If I were Romney, I’d just try to make young people discouraged [about either choice],” says one Republican consultant. That’s clearly the Republican approach.