Last week I had the privilege of keynoting the Toledo NAACP’s 99th Freedom Fund Dinner. The event attracted tons of media and more than 700 attendees. In the audience sat Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Mayor Michael Bell, loads of council persons, and plenty of candidates. It was a tremendous occasion and it felt good being home talking to hard working people who live outside of the beltway.
While in Toledo I was able catch up with a number of old friends, including a buddy from high school who I played ball with. We talked about our children and the “good old days.” He teased me about the 1964 Rambler I drove. We laughed about how the passenger side floorboard had rusted out and no one wanted to ride shotgun when it rained. We talked about the places we would go and how owning our first car gave us a sense of empowerment.
He mentioned how Ohio’s young workers have and always will rely on the auto industry. As voters, they know what it means to have family members working over fifty-five hours a week on a Jeep Liberty line in Toledo. Maybe that’s why they’re so disappointed about politicians falsely attacking an American institution like Jeep. The auto industry supports 1 of every 8 jobs in Ohio and many of these jobs are important for young job-seekers.
After talking with him, I started to wonder what the long term effects of their Jeep attacks would be. Would they widen the gap with young Voters of Color (VOC) on Election Day? Would it solidify the Democrat’s lead in Ohio for 2012 and also become a hurdle for the GOP in New Jersey and Virginia next year?
Looking at Gallup’s latest study, it seems that we are on track to have a similar electorate as 2008 where the youth made up 18% of the vote. As witnessed on the state level in 2008, an energized young VOC electorate gave President Obama the victory in Ohio, Virginia, and New Jersey. This could be clutch for the Democrats in 2012 and 2013.
While voters under 30 were 17% of the electorate for both Ohio and New Jersey in 2008, that number dropped for New Jersey to 9% in 2009. The same is true for young voters in Virginia; they were 21% of the electorate in 2008 and only 10% in 2009.
Why? A substantial number of young VOC decided to stay home and as a result the Democrats were unsuccessful in retaining the 2008 momentum in 2009.
A recent Harvard Institute of Politics study demonstrates the possible impact for 2012 and 2013. The President leads his challenger among 18-29 year old African Americans 91%-6% and Latinos 73%-13%. More importantly, 59% of African Americans and 31% of Latinos are enthusiastic about voting on November 6. Young voters trust President Obama more than his challenger to deal with “major issues” like immigration reform 45% – 25%. Among young women, Romney loses on issues of concern 53% – 20%.
These numbers are going to be even more critical in November of 2013 for state gubernatorial races. In places like New Jersey where Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by 10 points, 59% of voters under 30 now say that they will not vote for Governor Christie. Note that VOC are 31% of New Jersey’s citizen voting age population and they comprised 28% of the electorate in 2008.
Adding to that, Hudson county population grew by 4% to 634,266 and Jersey City population increased 3% to 247,597. This is a solid majority Latino, African American, and Asian American city and has well over 95,000 key VOC. Therefore, conservatives may have a tough time matching their ’09 bump with policies that center around the “virtues of selfishness.” In these blue-collar states, economic patriotism is multifaceted and far more complex than a bumper sticker policy.
Looking deeper I began to realize how young people everywhere are positively impacted by the automobile industry. For many of us in Toledo, owning a car provided the sense of independence we needed to become responsible and effective citizens. If you were lucky enough to have a family member who worked for General Motors, you not only benefited from their labor but their product as well.
Plus, watching our family members go to work every day gave us a sense of pride and passion for building things with our own hands. That’s probably why the auto bailout is so important for young voters in Ohio and other states.
It’s always a momentous occasion when a young person drives for the first time as well as votes for the first time. For many young people, these are two of the first meaningful investments they will make in their own future and independence. Not to mention that buying a car is one of the largest purchases made by young people.
As Americans we believe that our politicians should match that seriousness in word as well as deed. They should defend our institutions as well as our democratic traditions. That’s popping the clutch.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac