Youth in Revolt

Has the President Lost His Obama Generation? College Students Crowd CPAC

With the president’s promises of change unfulfilled, nearly 50 percent of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year were college students—and in a recent poll, millennials endorsed the economic philosophies of conservatism.

02.14.12 9:45 AM ET

The kids are all right. Well, not all right. But the Conservative Political Action Conference certainly demonstrated that America’s youth are not all left.

Counter to conventional wisdom, young millennials, age 18-29, don’t all march in lockstep. Not all identify with the Democratic Party. In fact, conservative organizations like CPAC are driven by the younger generation.

Some 10,500 people attended the annual CPAC convention this year; close to 50 percent were college students. And that has been consistent over the life of the convention in terms of percentage. But the numbers are growing steadily. The year before President Obama was elected, 1,500 students attended. This year 5,000 participated, an increase of 233 percent in five years. The students came from all over the country, from small liberal arts colleges, religious-based schools, and major state universities to “elite” institutions like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and more.

Does this mean we’re experiencing some sort of massive transitional movement among college-age adults away from the liberal orthodoxy preached within the halls of academia since FDR embraced Keynesian economics and the redistribution of wealth? Well, of course not.

But it may be an awakening of a generation lost.

In the 2008 election, 66 percent of millennials voted for Obama. And half still self-identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

But promises of change have not been fulfilled, and hope is fading. According to a Harvard University Institute of Politics’ study, only 12 percent of millennials say the country is on the right track. The president’s approval ratings are down to their lowest point so far in the under 30 group, with an even greater overall drop among college students. And, a plurality predict Obama will not win reelection.

The rise in the number of college students attending CPAC would seem to reflect that an ever increasing number of young adults, perhaps awakened by the realities looming in a depressed jobs market, is looking for different answers. Those nearing graduation are especially focused. Says one particularly motivated millennial who attended CPAC: “We know that ousting Obama is the only way we'll be able to find a quality job when we graduate.”

A recent Generation Opportunity poll shows millennials have learned the true costs of an economy stalled, with 77 percent having delayed or expecting to delay life events like getting married, buying a home, or paying off student loans.

That same poll also shows, among millennials:

  53 percent agree if taxes on business profits were reduced, companies would be more likely to hire.
  59 percent agree the economy grows best when individuals are allowed to create businesses without government interference.
  69 percent prefer reducing federal spending over raising personal taxes to balance the budget.
  25 percent believe in raising personal taxes versus reducing federal spending to balance the budget.

Pretty startling coming from members of the “Obama generation”—as these beliefs mirror the economic philosophies of conservatism.

Now, if only the Republican candidates for president could articulate and clearly reflect this philosophy.