At long last, it seems, Republicans think they have a perfect example of why young people should support them instead of Democrats: Obamacare, the legislation most identified with the president that young people overwhelmingly supported.
In the aftermath of Mitt Romney's 2012 loss, the Republican National Committee undertook what it dubbed its "Growth and Opportunity Project," or G.O.P. for short. Among the priorities that it isolated were a need to appeal to those young voters that thought Obama was "cool" (their quotes) in 2008 and to address the fact that the party "sound[s] increasingly out of touch" to younger voters. The final report articulated 14 steps for appealing to young people: social media use, work with college Republicans, advertise in college newspapers, and so on. Obamacare wasn't mentioned.
On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal editorial board makes the case — as others have before — that young people are getting a lousy deal from the health care law. "In rational insurance markets … people would be charged premiums roughly proportional to their expected health risks," the Journal writes. "But ObamaCare's regulations require younger and healthier people to be overcharged in the name of equity and income redistribution, and if they don't report for duty then rates will surge over time." Those economics are precisely why the Koch brothers-funded Generation Opportunity has been pressing young people not to enroll in the program: if they don't, if a substantial percentage of enrollees isn't young, the economics of Obamacare don't work. It's also why the Obama administration put a focus on young people at the outset, bolstered recently by a new push from celebrity endorsers.
At Real Clear Politics, the Washington Examiner's Michael Barone articulates the politics. Leveraging a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics that came out in December, Barone suggests that young people, in the wake of Obamacare, have "a healthy skepticism about the ability of a government, a government that lied about whether you could keep your insurance and your doctor, and couldn't construct a workable website." Barone writes:
The combination of higher education and health care costs and the new normal economy amount to what analyst Walter Russell Mead calls "the war on the young."
No wonder they're unhappy with the president who promised hope and change. Maybe they're in the market for an alternative.
This is the argument, in a nutshell. While Barone might be warranted in treating that Harvard survey with skepticism, there's resonance to his point that will probably only increase as the March 31 deadline for avoiding the mandate penalty comes and goes. As the Journal and Barone both note, young people aren't likely going to shell out for coverage until absolutely necessary, and will probably do so then only grudgingly.
But this won't translate into immediate Republican dominance. If young people are frustrated by Obamacare, that probably won't register in 2014, an election cycle in which Republicans are likely to do well anyway. By 2016, Obamacare will be the norm, and young people will have gotten used to paying for coverage or the penalty. It's the more subtle argument that the Republicans hope resonates: that this is unfair and not how it should be.
Nor is it as easy as assuming young people will vote solely on this issue. "If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive," the Growth and Opportunity Project reads, "young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree." Barone clearly hopes that the "war on the young" will be in the 80 percent that isn't gay marriage or immigration reform. Time will tell.