While Democrats are attacking Republican plans for entitlement reform to gain ground with elderly voters, they may be losing the youth vote. Young voters appear interested in reforming the current system so it will not go broke before they hit retirement age. Some Democrats have praised Paul Ryan for at least putting a plan on the table and complain that their party needs to do the same.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney essentially embraced an entitlement reform agenda with his selection of budget wonk Ryan to be his running mate. Some early signs indicate that those Republican entitlement reform ideas may resonate with young voters. Newsweek has dubbed these voters "generation screwed" because, in part, they will likely pay into entitlement programs and get little in return if no changes are made.
A JZ Analytics poll conducted over the weekend shows Romney's stock rising among 18- to 29-year-olds. Forty-one percent said they would vote for Romney, which represents a new high for the Republican presidential nominee. President Barack Obama, on the other hand, was supported by 49 percent of those young likely voters. Though better than Romney, it's a dramatic decline from his popularity among young voters in the 2008 election when he received 66 percent of their vote.
Romney announced Ryan as his running mate on Saturday morning and the poll was conducted Saturday and Sunday, so it's not clear how many of the poll's 1,117 likely voters were aware of the Ryan pick when they were polled.
John Zogby of JZ Analytics believes the Ryan pick may have been one factor that explains Romney's strong showing among young voters, according to The Washington Examiner.
Zogby mentioned Ryan's "youthfulness." Ryan is 42 years old but appears even younger. Zogby also noted that young voters are becoming more worried about the national debt.
The national debt is currently close to $16 trillion, which amounts to almost $51,000 per U.S. citizen. For comparison, the national debt was about $1.4 trillion in 1983, the year that today's 29-year-olds were born. Since debt this large would be difficult to pay off in a single generation, future generations will likely be burdened with the debt of previous generations, which likely concerns many young voters today.
The size of the national debt is expected to climb further as health care costs increase and more baby boomers retire. The biggest drivers of the growth of federal spending now and in the near future are government entitlements -- Social Security and Medicare, in particular.
A few Democrats are already warning that their party could lose the support of younger voters if they do not offer realistic alternatives to entitlement reform.
"While Democrats attack [Ryan's] Medicare plan as 'radical' and portray him as pushing granny off the cliff, young people don't seem to be buying this caricature. Or maybe 'radical' is what they want," Kirsten Powers wrote Thursday for The Daily Beast.
Powers is a liberal columnist and Fox News contributor who used to work in the Clinton White House. In addition to citing the JZ Analytics poll, she notes a Pew Forum 2011 poll showing a plurality of 18- to 29-year-olds (46 percent) support Ryan's proposed changes to Medicare, with only 28 percent disapproving. Those over 65 were the strongest opponents to Ryan's plan, even though they are not asked to make any sacrifices under the plan (no changes would be made for those 55 and older). Age, it turned out, was a better predictor than party identification of how one felt about Ryan's proposals.
Third Way, a left-of-center think tank founded by Democrats, has also been warning their party of the necessity of entitlement reform. Jon Cowan, CEO of Third Way, praised Ryan for presenting an entitlement reform plan, even though he disagreed with the specifics of the plan.
"There are a lot of younger voters who say of the Ryan plan, 'at least I get something … at least there is a plan.' If you don't get in there and offer a plan you give up the high ground on policy," Cowan told Powers.