The Obama Party

February 6th, 2009 at 12:02 pm | 14 Comments |

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It hardly came as a surprise to anyone on election day when Barack Obama cruised to a 2-1 landslide victory over Senator McCain among voters younger than 35.  The youth vote had long been considered an arrow that solely belonged in Obama’s quiver.  It was the secret to his upset in Iowa, the source of thousands of Facebook messages, and an impression among all the talking heads that younger voters finally had a candidate they could identify with.  (It probably did not help that at age 72 and as a Vietnam War veteran, John McCain seemed more likely to be a Wikipedia article that a 25 year old voter scanned through to cram for a U.S. history paper than as a potential voice for the Net generation’s hopes and dreams.)

What was surprising was that many young voters simply did not cast votes for anyone other than Barack Obama.  As many as one out of every five votes the President received from voters under the eligible age to run for the Presidency themselves, was a vote for Barack Obama for President…and quite literally nothing else.  In a very real sense, these voters are neither Democrat, Republican, or Independent–they are card-carrying members of Obama for America, nothing more and nothing less.  (Were this a snarkier blog than NewMajority, here is where I would gleefully mock the Obama personality cult.)

David Plouffe clearly has internalized this.  Among the many benefits of the 13 million member strong Plouffian construct known as Organizing for America, AKA the President’s reelection campaign, is its ability to insure that Obama’s supporters remain in constant contact with the President and his agenda.  In terms of insuring that the Obama Party marches in lockstep with its leader, this is, well, brilliant.

Or not. There’s a reason why The New Republic is fretting about the existence of the Obama Party.  Voters ultimately fall into a pattern of voting for parties once they vote one way a few times, and it’s always better to imprint partisanship on voters as early as possible.  If twenty percent of the Obama youth vote is truly only Obama’s, it’s a signal that those voters haven’t done anything more than crawl on their journey to full fledged Democrat adulthood.  They voted for personality, and could well be swung by personality again in 2012…especially if President Obama fails in fulfilling the lofty promises he made during the campaign.

The Republicans should be prepared to try and pick up those pieces, should such a turn of events transpire.  We need a real youth strategy, one that is more than just bringing out rapper Daddy Yankee for the fall campaign.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • zok_t2

    THANK YOU Mr. Morgan for pointing out the “trendy” factor in youth voting. I attend a small college in St. Paul, MN and watched each of my conservative in nature friends one by one fall into the trend of Obama loving. T-shirts, pins, bumper stickers, the works. Very few ever had any explanation for their obsession, besides the cliched, “He’s gonna change everything man, he’s gonna bring the change!”
    It was frustrating for me to sit back and watch the wave of trendiness take my campus, and neighboring campuses over.
    I used to be ridiculed for wearing my “Bush Cheney” t-shirt because it wasn’t trendy, but now wearing the presidents face on your chest is a symbol of being hip. Did I start the trend back in ’04 and it has just recently caught on? Or did it take a psychedelic designed t-shirt to make people my age “love America” for the first time in their lives?

  • Oneon1isto

    I’m one of your youth voters, and I think the worst thing in the world you can assume is that we voted him in based on a hipster pretext. For one, it implies and assumes a lot that I’m just not going to bother with. Second, it also implies the way out for Republicans (and by the way, I’m staunchly Independent) is to field someone who eschews the same hipster vibes. Very bad call. The last thing the GOP needs is more value placed on image, rather than substance.

  • Jonah

    Twice you sum up Obama’s youth appeal as “personality”–such a generic psychological term it is meaningless when alone. In the first instance you tell us Obama’s would be worthy of “snarky” derision; the second sweeps into the bold “they voted for personality”–but we are to infer your meaning without any description. Maybe you mean some of the things that make someone well liked: Obama’s charismatic rhetorical skill, ingratiating personal presence, charm or some similar thing. Or winning efforts by Howard Dean, the Silicon Valley graphic artists, and IT folks. Tell us.

    Your “gleeful” derision reduces and misjudges the relationship between this personality thing and leadership skills, especially for the President. Your implication seems to be that young people are more likely to vote based on personality, regardless of party affiliation (or policies?), but you seem not to see the Obama demographic in its depth. The momentum generated by rejecting Bush, for instance, was significant, and the stark contrast in personality between Obama and Bush was as important as the comparison with McCain.

    As you imply, a first-time voter for any party is probably more likely to vote for that party in the future. Obama most certainly brought along a large number of voters, especially young ones, into the Democratic Party, even many of those who only voted for Obama this go ’round. And despite hopes he will fail to fulfill his lofty promises, if he manages to maintain greater public awareness and involvement in government, he may not have to fulfill on everything if his efforts seem sincere and he is judged more competent than the competition.

  • coleman

    The iPod/iPhone generation is about personality, not ideology, about passion and ideas, not rancor and resentment. Obama has a winning smile, energy, and a can-do attitude.
    The GOP can easily match all of it, by recruiting and supporting dynamic young leaders who are not afraid to mix it up with the arrogant, smug, overly-confident liberals who are spending us into oblivion.
    But the answer is not to endlessly mock and deride Obama (turn off Hannity and Limbaugh), but to learn from him.

  • ZacMorgan

    Oneonone, I’m not arguing that most Obama votes were based on a “hipster” pretext. I’m simply pointing out that a substantial chunk of Obama’s young voters were persuaded to wait in line, enter the voting booth, and vote for Obama…and nobody else. Clearly, these voters were only interested in one thing: Obama. They weren’t interested in voting for the Democratic candidates for other office, which seems to imply a personality-based vote.

    Jonah, see above re: why I believe it was a personality-based vote. It’s been fairly well established that young voters are typically very low-information voters. Garnering the youth vote is often about image (which you seem to agree with, suggesting it was also about the rejection of Bush’s personality, which is a good point). I would argue Reagan’s 1984 youth vote landslide was also image-related.

    I’m not convinced that simply generating more “awareness” will be enough to hold the Obama Party together, I believe these youth voters are probably more likely to defect from Democrats in 2010 and 2012, since they have no personal stake in the Democratic Party as of yet. But thank you for your informed commentary.

    coleman, I absolutely agree. I am not arguing that we should turn our noses up at Obama…we need to be ready with a youth strategy of our own in 2012.

    Thanks for reading, everyone!

  • Oneon1isto

    Fair enough. I would just recognize that when arguing there’s a cult of personality involved, there’s very likely substance to back that personality. And if that substance and values can be extended into the broader political stream (and I think they have) then you’ve got trouble And while the Obama campaign did a good job herding groups to the polls, even more importantly they recognized that the youth vote isn’t necessarily low-info anymore. Technological savvy tends to make us higher information than a lot of the generations that came before.

  • Jonah

    Thank you for your reply, Mr. Morgan.

  • sinz54

    I would like to see some proof that today’s Internet-savvy, YouTube-savvy, social networking-savvy young people are still “low information.” It appears to me that they have access to far more information at their fingertips than any previous generation. But this worldwide Internet culture is causing America’s young people to think more transnationally than any previous generation. The GOP’s hard-edged nationalism is not appealing to someone who has grown up leaping from website to website around the world. I also think it’s a mistake to assume that the fact that these folks voted for Obama but not other Democrats means that it was some kind of “Obama personality cult.” Rather, I think it means that Obama was offering something that other Democrats were not: An optimistic vision of a bright future for decades to come. That’s the same appeal that Reagan (“Morning in America”) had to young people. And it’s the same appeal that JFK (“New Frontier”) had. McCain had no comparable optimistic vision to offer. Neither did Reid or Pelosi. During the campaign, I noted the grim tone of some of McCain’s statements, and the “Issues” material on his campaign website.

  • ZacMorgan

    Sinz, I’d check out this Pew survey from 2007: http://people-press.org/report/319/public-knowledge-of-current-affairs-little-changed-by-news-and-information-revolutions, to me this is pretty conclusive that young voters remain “low-information voters”.

    Thanks for reading!

  • aw

    I totally agree with your article, but please try to refrain from making fun of Obamania (even if it is fun to do) because the last thing we need is to look like bitter sore losers. Try to take the advice from McCain’s concession speech and think bipartisan, support Obama, and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess we’re in. You should refrain from commenting on the successes of Obama’s campaign that shouldn’t have been i.e. his image to young people because even if it’s true, it’s not what people want to hear. Focus on the positives, so we (the GOP) can repair our image and win again.

  • aw

    Also, to gain youth votes, we should shift the party from faith-based to spirituality based.

  • aw

    Actually, he took care not to make fun of obamamania

  • new to blogging

    I am curious. What were the demographics that elected Jimmy Carter. I seem to recall a sizable number of under-35′s who voted for the love of Jimmy and a media that was entranced by the concept of change for the better after those eight long years with those nasty Nixon types.

    The love fest could have lasted but it did not. Time were tough economically. Times were tough politically and times were tough globally. Things didn’t go as palnned and JC was simply too pendantic for constant day-to-day consumption.

    When my voting-age college children asked my why I WASN’T voting for Mr. Obama, the best answer I could give them was that I was old enough to remember Jimmy Carter.

  • ZacMorgan

    aw, thanks for the support.

    new to blogging, in 1976 there was virtually no age gap among voters. 18-21s voted 50-48 for Ford, 22-29s voted 51-46 for Carter, 30-44s split 49-49. By contrast, 60+ voters went 52-47 for Ford. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1976#Voter_demographics