New voters of 2008 are a tough sell for GOP

There are only two things standing in the breach, blocking a broad Republican landslide, and both surprise me. They are also interrelated, which confounds me. First, the new voters of 2008 may actually vote at higher levels than expected and exhibit more partisanship than I anticipated. Second, the total domination of jobs as the most important issue is not helping Republicans like it should.

All along throughout the campaigns, I have been keeping my eye on the “new” voters, those who registered and voted for the first time in 2008 or who have registered since. In the main, these voters are younger, 34 years of age and under. They also tend to be Democrat and left-leaning, but affluent enough that their ideology is not populist or Marxist. My initial sense of them was that they entered the electorate infused with idealism for the symbols that Obama represents — more so than with commitment to his ideology and issue agenda. Many of them also now need a job, and Obama has been useless for most unemployed newbies at that task. So I thought they might be open to Republican entreaties for creating new jobs and the getting the economy back on track.

While the new voters have shown some promise for a few Republican candidates, as we approach the finish line I’m discouraged overall. Listening to these new voters in focus groups and polls, my reaction is akin to the old fart who complains that the younger generation doesn’t understand history and economics. The new generation, in particular, holds a very different, non-traditional sense of where jobs come from. The older generation thinks that the private sector creates jobs. The younger generation believes this to an extent, but also thinks more of public-sector jobs as part of the mix. So the new voters don’t necessarily subscribe to notion of smaller, less costly government that frees up more capital for business and industry. For the new voters, government is just another industry and economic sector worthy of care and watering.

In some sense, the new voters subscribe to a sort of Euro-socialism, whether they’d admit to it or even be knowledgeable of that particular ideology. They are not especially anti-tax and certainly not anti-government. They are green and subscribe to a life of limits, economically and environmentally. They value diversity in most everything. They are pro-growth when it comes to the economy, but not so much that their economic goals trump all the other values they hold. In short, they are way better targets for most Democratic campaigns than for Republicans.

There are also a lot of these new voters. In some states, if they all came back to the polls this November they could represent 20 to 25 percent of the midterm election turnout. My guess is that they won’t be that large a slice of the pie, but they could represent up to 15 percent many places. That’s a big deal. Younger voters normally are no-shows in the first midterm after their first presidential round of voting. They are young and have other interests. They are mobile and not as settled, so the mostly local races of the midterm don’t capture their imaginations.

So why is this new bunch of 2008 more engaged? For one thing, this midterm has been more nationalized than normal. Even the alternative media that new voters follow, like “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, are more focused on the national trends (e.g., will the Republicans take both houses of Congress?), engaging these new voters. Campaigns are also using the Internet and other new media more effectively, keeping these voters in the game. For the long term, these new voters have not closed the door on Republicans, but this time we’re a tough sell.

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.