Youth vote not critical in W.Va.
You know the candidate who can sway younger voters wins the election, right? You know wrong if you’re in West Virginia.
Convincing young people you’re God’s gift to politics is one thing. Translating that to votes is something else.
During the 2012 primary election in our state, only 13,030 of the ballots cast came from people 18-24 years of age. That was only 4 percent of voters in that election. It also was only about 8 percent of the number of West Virginians in that age group.
Numbers were better in the 2008 general election. That, you may remember, was the one analysts proclaimed President Barack Obama won by selling “hope and change” to younger voters. Here in West Virginia, 8 percent of the votes in that election came from the 18-24 group. The 2008 general and 2012 primary elections were the most recent for which I could find Mountain State numbers.
Bottom line: At least in West Virginia, those college-age folks may fall for your message, but for every 12 or so you persuade, only one is going to do anything about it.
If you really want to win elections here, make your case to the old people, 56 and better (I’m over 56, so I’m allowed to refer to these voters as “old”). During the 2012 primary, a whopping 59 percent of the votes cast came from that age group. During the 2008 general election, the percentage was 44.
Perhaps it’s because “senior citizens” dominate elections here that Obama lost badly in West Virginia in both 2008 and 2012. We’ve heard the “hope and change” stuff, worded differently, way too many times to fall for slogans.
But it’s different on the national stage. About 48 percent of Americans 18-24 years of age voted in the 2008 general election. Some were disillusioned by 2012, when only 41.2 percent of them went to the polls.
Analysts say that in states crucial to both the 2008 and 2012 elections, Obama received decisive assistance from younger people. The last time around, he won the under-30 vote while losing the 45-and-up crowd in several states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. That edge helped him net those states’ Electoral College votes.
Again, however, it’s different in several respects here in West Virginia. The vast majority of younger Mountain State residents just don’t go to the polls for anyone. In both 2008 and 2012, they didn’t succumb to the Obama campaigns’ vaunted ability to mobilize people in their age group. Perhaps some of them decided to refrain from voting because, although they liked the Obama image, they understood how bad he would be for our state.
So what’s all this mean for in-state candidates?
Let’s start with the top, the U.S. Senate race (if you can still call it that) between U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat. Civics apathy among younger West Virginians does not bode well for Tennant.
Older people are more likely to vote for conservative candidates. That’s a proven fact. Check one for Capito.
Even if the younger crowd falls for Tennant, they are much less likely than their elders to vote. Check two for Capito.
Many younger Mountain State voters who were energized by Obama in 2008 became disillusioned and, if they vote at all, will cast ballots in reaction to that. Three strikes and …
For other candidates, the outlook is similar, with an important qualifier: Candidates for Congress are more likely than those for local and state offices to be affected by the Obama factor.
But, even for local and state offices, the ticket to victory is appealing to older voters. Win all the “youth vote” you want, and you still may lose the election.
And guess what? “Hope” may sound good to folks over 56. “Change” – for its own sake, without specifying you mean something like, say, more jobs and less EPA – doesn’t.
Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org