Youthful Liberalism: A Generational Shift

By Greg Dooley

The so called ‘youth vote’ has never weighed particularly high on the agendas of politicians seeking election. Unlike the reliability of the religious, elderly, working class or any other predictable demographic, young people have never voted consistently or in great enough numbers to be considered a particularly vital target audience. This pattern, however, may be gradually changing. In 2008 Barack Obama garnered the support of the vast majority of young Americans by appearing as a young, alternative to the 250 year old tradition of old white men occupying the White House. Treated more like a rock star than a junior Senator when he visited college campuses across the country, Mr Obama rode the title wave of popularity all the way to the Oval Office.

obama

In 2012, a completely different candidate swept the support of young people across the country. This time it appeared that his alternative policy suggestions and alternative beliefs won him unique praise and attention from members of Generation Y. As an aging Republican Member of Congress, Ron Paul may appear to be the absolute antithesis of President Obama. Yet it is not a mirror of their own youthfulness or cool guy persona young people seek in Representative Paul. Instead, his libertarian credentials seem to excite and inspire members of the electorate who are not yet jaded by the two party system. Less interested in his radical stance on the Federal Reserve and foreign policy, today’s youth appear draw to Paul’s unapologetic libertarian stances. He is a self proclaimed ‘champion of the Constitution’, supports limited government and campaigned for state’s rights.

While many of the policy subjects Dr Paul advocates are uniquely American, the overall connection with libertarianism and support from 18-30 year olds is not a one off correlation. In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson stands out as a liberal light in the Conservative party and appears to be king of youthful popularity. Combining Obama’s charisma and relatable down to earth enthusiasm with Dr Paul’s classical liberal ideas, it is no surprise the current Mayor of London is heralded as the next leader of the Tory Party by so many. Hardened by a rapidly changing world, Britain’s young people have been disproportionately disadvantaged by the economic slowdown. Squeezed between the external pressures of globalization and internal stress of high unemployment, Generation Y is forced to fight for their future in a way that others in the recent past have not.

However, as the youth vote still is not taken as seriously as it could be, a fact that can only be blamed on those who do not participate, unique leaders like Boris Johnson will have to fill in the gaps until young people today mature into the politicians of tomorrow. When that day arrives, we can only hope that the momentum libertarianism currently carries with young people in UK will extend to the policies and functions of the government in the future.

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