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Zach Marks Headshot

Do Republicans Care About Students? Nope, and Students Don't Care About Them

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On the front of today's Yale Daily News was an article announcing the formation of a group of students supporting Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid. As a member of Yale for Obama, I was a bit pissed at first about what I saw as unfair publicity. Then I remembered the school paper had run a front page story on the Obama group when it formed...nearly six months ago. It's a telling sign of where students' support lies in the 2008 election when three months before the first primary, student groups supporting nearly every Democratic candidate (Gravel supporters are taking their time getting off the ground) are up and running, while just one group has formed to back a GOP candidate and they have yet to meet.

You could argue this has less to do with students in general and more to do with students at Yale, where the student body is overwhelmingly liberal. You'd be wrong. In a Democracy Corps poll, 61 percent of young voters said they would likely vote for a Democratic candidate compared to 34 percent who said they'd vote for a Republican; that 27 point lead stretches to 32 points in "battleground" districts. Rock the Vote's sixth volume of their bimonthly summary of polls examining young voters' "level of interest in the 2008 elections, political party identification, and preferences for president and Congress in 2008" is filled with more juicy figures. Obama and Clinton continue to be the frontrunners among young voters and still come out on top in head-to-head matchups against Giuliani, the most popular Republican among 18-29 year olds. And no, John Stossel, this isn't because young people are uninformed voters who don't bother to learn about the candidates or the issues. A survey from the Pew Research Center found that Millennials are paying attention to the presidential campaigns and debates as much as the general electorate and at a higher rate than 30-49 year-olds.

It comes as little surprise that young voters are leaning Democratic after earlier polls like the often-cited New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll showed that Millenials lean left. Indeed, young voters' values are much more in line with those of the Democratic candidates than of the Republicans. Poll after poll confirms that young people care about protecting the environment and our civil liberties, about supporting gay and women's rights and winning back respect for America through a multilateral foreign policy. These values are embraced, with a rare exception here or there, by the Democratic Party and disregarded by Republicans. Maybe that's why a Democracy Corps survey found that young people believe Democrats do a better job than Republicans handling every policy issue, from health care to Iraq to energy independence to the war on terror to managing the budget.

Some conservative bloggers like James Durbin have blamed their inability to win over young voters on a failure to reach out to them. I believe that no amount of outreach from Republicans could overcome their backwards vision for America which simply does not appeal to young people. But Durbin is right to note that the Democratic candidates enjoy the support of Millenials in large part thanks to their efforts to engage them by talking about the issues that are important to them, like college affordability. Clinton and Obama have proposals to make college more affordable and to clean up the student loan industry, while John Edwards has proposed a "College for Everyone" plan which would "pay for one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for any student who is willing to work hard and stay out of trouble." Where have the Republicans been on this issue?

Democratic candidates have also worked to establish their presence on college campuses. The Democratic front-runners have hired youth outreach directors (thankfully learning from Kerry's mistake of waiting until after he earned the nomination). Obama tapped Rock the Vote's political director and Facebook's co-founder to help him with the youth vote and has launched a Students for Obama blog and a Generation Obama campaign. The most effort any Republican has made to win the support of college students has been Mitt Romney sending his son to campuses to avoid having to tell students to their face that he hasn't really thought much about increasing federal aid for students. With the youth vote on pace to reach record numbers in 2008, time will tell which candidate's strategy will pay off.