The following is a guest submission by Kevin Duwel, a former Campus Coordinator and current student at George Washington University.
The idea that the youth will vote Democrat and the old will vote Republican has more to do with recent party composition and less with the nature of party ideology. In recent elections, the Democrats mobilized the youth vote, while Republicans have neglected it, though this is not due to the nature of the party. The youth turnout in the Ron Paul presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 showed that, though the GOP has risked not just losing a certain voter demographic by turning away young Ron Paul supporters. It has risked compromising its future as a national party. When young people first get out the vote for the party, they will generally tend towards that persuasion in future elections. The GOP should be scared of the swelling of youthful enthusiasm for candidate Obama in 2008 (and likely for incumbent Obama in 2012). With Ron Paul securing 47 percent of the youth vote in New Hampshire and 48 percent of the youth vote in the Iowa caucuses, the GOP has shot itself in the foot by shunning this demographic.
Why the GOP was not welcoming of the liberty activist contingent can perhaps be explained by a fear in the party for activists seeking to control the party. Even in “weak” party systems, the party expects to corral the activists, not the other way around. The GOP likely fears young liberty activists because the latter want to change the party, and this is indicative of an even more problematic trend in both sides of the two-party system.
Party politics are where democracy happens, and many of the problems in American politics today can be traced back to a lack of involvement in the parties. There was a time when Americans, perhaps less saturated with social media or less community centric ways to entertain themselves, went to town hall and central committee meetings. Today the makeup of central committee meetings for the Republicans are skewed towards old men in Hawaiian shirts reciting Romans 13 and towards bearded ladies with purse dogs for the Democrats. (Both of these observations are from personal experience). There was a reason why concentrated efforts by liberty activists in the GOP to show up were so successful in taking over county and state parties, and the decline of the American political party is it.
The state of things is really unfortunate for youth involvement in the political process, and the cause of liberty. When lousy politicians that won’t risk enraging public opinion on contentious issues like the drug war, or risk confusing public opinion on complex issues like monetary policy, you get bad policy, and even less entertaining legislative politics.
With what we saw at the RNC, namely the Ron Paul supporter majority Maine delegation not being seated, and floor fights over a rules change over the assigning of delegates by the national party, there are three paths young Ron Paul supporters will likely take. The most likely is to fall back into the apathy, the second most likely is to keep on the fight in the GOP as RepubliCANs, and the third is to join the Libertarian Party.
The most important thing about the Ron Paul campaign was, despite Ron Paul’s insistence to the contrary and his relative lack of gravitas, the man. The rEVOLution was no cult of personality, but with the retirement of Ron Paul, the majority of the non-activist young supporters will likely return to the ranks of non-voters, though perhaps not the ranks of politically inactive. They may continue to press political issues like drug legalization and anti-war in a way that they did not before. For those liberty activists that stay in the Republican Party, without Ron Paul it is unlikely they will keep a separate identity from the rest of the party for long. Rand Paul is a bright light for those who will take this path, but with his endorsement of Romney it is clear that he will not take as strong of a position as his father did as a beacon for the RepubliCANs. That leaves those who will leave the GOP for the Libertarian Party. At PAULfest, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate (and Students For Liberty advisor) Gary Johnson was very well received, as was his message, to vote Libertarian just this time. Though it is unlikely many but the very active cadres from the Ron Paul campaign will make this shift, while most will either take apathy or maintained effort in the GOP, likely to less avail.
Where most young voters for Ron Paul will likely fall out of political activism and those that stay will mostly keep their efforts in the GOP, the most passionate and active cadres will likely make their way to the Libertarian Party, and probably for the better. Even if the RepubliCANs were able to succeed in taking the reigns in the GOP, it would take at least two presidential election cycles if that. The current GOP would not go without a fight. Though taking Gary Johnson’s request to vote libertarian just this time will hardly lead to the election of a Libertarian president, an influx of young liberty cadres to the Libertarian Party will likely do more for the legitimacy of the LP then anything one candidate can do. Maybe even this opportunity will bring a renewed passion into party politics and with it a more functional political system for all.