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Could Ryan Lure Younger Voters To GOP?

Aug 15, 2012
Originally published on August 16, 2012 9:08 am

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the newly chosen vice presidential running mate for Republican Mitt Romney, was in Ohio on Wednesday to speak at his alma mater.

Ryan graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1992 with degrees in economics and political science. And his ascension to the GOP ticket thrills Rob Harrelson, a member of the school's College Republicans (as was Ryan, two decades earlier).

"He's young. He's energetic. He's popular. He's rising through the ranks of the Republican Party and in the House," says Harrelson. "I think he's a great candidate. He's bringing a lot of energy to the campaign."

At 42, Ryan is the nation's first vice presidential candidate from Generation X. Harrelson, 21, thinks Ryan's youth and ideas about the economy will pull more of today's college students to the right.

"I absolutely think that Ryan will appeal to the younger voters with his budget proposal," says Harrelson, speaking at Bagel and Deli in downtown Oxford, Ohio, packed with college students fresh off of summer vacation and parents helping them move into the dorms. "It cuts government regulation. It cuts the red tape that's really crippling our economy, and I think that his plan will really resonate."

If that's true, it would be very good news for Republicans who lost a lopsided battle for young voters in the 2008 election against President Obama. Only a third of voters under 30 voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008, which made for the largest disparity between young voters and other age groups since exit polling began in 1972.

"That voting age group, certainly in the last election, skewed to Obama. But they primarily skew toward not voting," says Patrick Haney, a professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio.

Of the students interviewed by NPR at Miami University, Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, only a handful knew the name Paul Ryan, and even fewer knew of his budget plan.

Many said they were either uninterested in the race or planning to check in on it later.

Tyler Hawkins, a senior at Xavier in Cincinnati, put it this way: "[I've] just been busy and, honestly, it's a little boring to me."

According to census data, the youth turnout hit its third-highest rate ever in 2008 at 51 percent. Many expect that number to drop in 2012.

Haney, the political scientist, isn't sure picking Ryan will make much of a difference.

"So, you know, the question is — is a pick like that meant to have some impact on younger voters who ... I guess there was some evidence to suggest were tuning out of this election?" says Haney. "Maybe, but I tend to doubt that age had much to do with the pick."

Haney suspects it has more to do with energizing the Republican base than bringing out the youth vote. Ryan's stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage are more in line with traditional religious conservatives than with typical college students.

Haney adds that, like their elders, young voters usually do not focus on the lower half of the ticket.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Mitt Romney's running mate campaigns today at his alma mater, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Paul Ryan graduated in 1992. NPR's Sami Yenigun is there as well to hear what young voters think about the Republican candidate for vice president.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: School hasn't even started yet and Bagel and Deli in downtown Oxford, Ohio is already buzzing. The breakfast spot sits on a main road through campus and is a staple of the Miami University community. The outdoor seating area is a tight space packed with college students fresh off of summer vacation and parents helping them move into the dorms.

Here sits Rob Harrelson(ph) rocking a T-shirt that says, rush GOP, urging students to join the party as though it were a frat. He's a member of the college Republicans and boy, is he fired up about Paul Ryan.

ROB HARRELSON: He's young. He's energetic. He's popular. He's rising through the ranks of the Republican Party and in the House. I think he's a great candidate. He's bringing a lot of energy to the campaign.

YENIGUN: At 42, Paul Ryan is the nation's first vice presidential candidate from generation X. Harrelson, who's 21, thinks Ryan's youth and ideas about the economy will pull more of today's college students to the right.

HARRELSON: I absolutely think that Ryan will appeal to the younger voters with his budget proposal. It cuts government regulation. It cuts the red tape that's really crippling our economy. And I think that his plan will really resonate.

YENIGUN: If that's true, it'd be good news for Republicans who lost a lopsided battle for young voters in the 2008 election. Only a third of voters under 30 voted for McCain, the biggest gap between young voters and older age groups since exit polling began in 1972. Patrick Haney is a professor of political science at Miami University and he says both parties will have to work hard for the youth vote this year.

PATRICK HANEY: That voting age group, certainly in the last election, skewed to Obama, but they primarily skew toward not voting.

YENIGUN: Of the students interviewed at Miami University, Xavier University of Cincinnati, only a handful knew the name Paul Ryan and even fewer knew of his budget plan. Many said they were either uninterested in the race or planning to check in on it later. Tyler Hawkins(ph) is a senior at Xavier University in nearby Cincinnati.

TYLER HAWKINS: I've just been busy and honestly, it's a little boring to me so...

YENIGUN: According to census data, the youth turnout hit its third highest rate ever in 2008 at 51 percent. Many expect that number to drop in 2012. Political scientist Patrick Haney isn't sure picking Ryan will make much of a difference.

HANEY: So, the question is, is a pick like that meant to have some impact on younger voters who - there, I guess, you know, was some evidence to suggest were sort of tuning out of this election? Maybe. But I tend to doubt that age had much to do with the pick.

YENIGUN: Haney suspects it has more to do with energizing the Republican base than bringing out the youth vote. Ryan's stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage are more in line with traditional religious conservatives than typical college students. He adds that, like their elders, young voters usually don't focus on the lower half of the ticket.

And that's the case with 20-year-old Briana Piedra(ph), a sophomore at nearby Xavier University who calls herself a hardcore Obama fan. She hasn't registered to vote yet, but says she plans to vote for Obama even though she's not wild about his VP.

BRIANA PIEDRA: Biden, I'm not sure. I feel like maybe he could choose another vice president, maybe a little bit more - not younger, but I don't know, someone just more active. I don't know. I can't even explain it.

YENIGUN: And as for the guys on the other ticket...

PIEDRA: In terms of Romney and that other dude, I don't know them, so - and I don't feel like they've gone into the community and introduced themselves. I don't know anyone who, like, knows what they stand for. Like for real, for real.

YENIGUN: That other dude will get a hero's welcome when he returned to Miami of Ohio today, an opportunity to reintroduce himself and let people know where he stands. Sami Yenigun, NPR New, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.