It doesn’t take a political science PhD to figure out what Mitt Romney needs to do if he is to have a chance of winning the presidency in November. He must reduce the dramatic margins by which President Obama won among certain key constituencies in 2008, specifically women, Latinos and young voters.
Romney has recently launched his efforts to do just that. The week before last he had sought to lambast Obama for job losses among women. That message got muddied as Romney evaded questions about whether he supported the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
By comparison Romney’s focus last week—multiple attacks on Obama’s economic record aimed at Latinos and young people—went off without a hitch.
But do they have any chance of working? The predominant focus for Romney of late has been the youth vote. He sent at least seven missives on the topic last week. Of course he won’t win the youth vote outright. But, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post noted, Romney doesn’t have to win the youth vote, he merely has to reduce Obama’s margins of victory among them. A small enough margin will be offset by Romney’s near-certain advantage among the elderly.
And, the elderly vote in far greater numbers than young people. As Elsepth Reeve of The Atlantic Wire points out, the supposedly massive youth turnout of 2008 was not the highest in history. It will probably be lower this year. But Reeve is over-simplifying when she writes, “Aside from the fact that hardly any young people show up, they’re so heavily Democratic it seems pointless for Romney to try to fight for them.” The reason so many pundits have inaccurately referred to a supposedly record youth turnout in 2008 is because the youth vote was far more Democratic than in previous cycles. Obama’s 66 percent of voters under 30 years old represented an unprecedented degree of party polarization by age. That allowed young voters to affect the outcome far more than they usually do. Obama must repeat that feat if he is to win.
That won’t be easy. On Tuesday the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government released a major poll of Americans ages 18 to 29. Overall, it should be encouraging to Obama. He led Romney 43 percent to 26 percent, with the remainder undecided.
But there are three possible subgroups of young voters among whom Romney could make inroads: whites, Latinos, and voters under 21 years old. “There’s opportunity for Romney among segments of youth vote where Obama’s underperforming compared to four years ago,” notes John Della Volpe, the IOP’s director of polling. “Almost seven out of ten young whites are not committed to Obama. He won young whites by ten points last time, now it’s roughly one-third each [for Obama, Romney and undecided].”