In the 2008 election, young voters turned out in record numbers and largely carried President Obama to victory — but this year, college conservatives in Colorado are doing everything in their power to ensure the youth vote swings to the right. They say they are seeing disenfranchised students of all political stripes uniting under the Republican Party banner against the rising national deficit and Obama’s economic record, although the latest polling data suggests otherwise.
A Public Policy Polling survey from April 10 has Obama leading the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney 72 percent to 17 percent in Colorado’s 18-29 age group, with 11 percent undecided. Public Policy Polling is a left-leaning outfit, but has been accurate throughout the 2012 primary so far.
Andrew Struttman, a University of Denver student and vice chair of the Colorado Federation of College Republicans, said that while the “youth arm of the Republican Party is incredibly varied,” the national debt is a “unifying principle for us to rally around.”
Rallying the youth vote is something Republicans expect to do a lot of in the upcoming months.
On Tuesday, the CU Boulder College Republicans organized rallies on campus to coincide with Obama’s visit to the liberal college town.
Obama’s quick pit stop in Colorado was part of a multi-state campaign by the president themed around “investing in education.” The president spoke to students in North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa about the need for Congress to extend federal subsidies in order to keep interest rates on federal Stafford student loans from doubling, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1.
Mitch Whitus, president of the CU Boulder College Republicans, said that the event was planned as “more of a celebration of conservative principles than a denouncement of Democrats.”
Nonetheless, the crowd at the morning rally — which amounted to roughly six students and fifteen other protesters — waved signs and chanted slogans denouncing the president outside the University Memorial Center on campus as bemused students walked by on their way to class.
Aslinn Scott, vice president of the CU Boulder College Republicans, said that the organization has about fifty members, and that it is the largest chapter of College Republicans in the state.
Scott criticized Obama for missing two votes to extend the Stafford interest loan rates as a Senator in 2007, and wondered if he was addressing the big picture.
“I don’t think meddling in interest rates is going to solve the greater issue of tuition hikes,” Scott said.
Both Romney and Republicans from Colorado’s congressional delegation, however, seem to be falling in line with the president’s student loan pitch.
Just hours before giving his speech to Boulder students, Romney expressed support for extending the subsidized interest rates. The Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have also recently expressed their support, as long as the federal subsidy is paid for.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call, who earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Colorado in Boulder, attended the rally.
Call said that now that Romney has indicated his support for temporarily extending the subsidy, the challenge would be figuring out how to pay for it. He also said that while Stafford loan interest rates affect about 3.5 million students, there are currently 39 million recent graduates paying student loans.
“While it’s important for those 3.5 million recent graduates, it is not something that is necessarily going to have a dramatically big impact,” Call said.
Colton Vaughn heads the Colorado Mesa University chapter of College Republicans and is a recipient of Stafford loans. He said that while the prospect of his rate doubling is “concerning,” as a college student, he feels “cheated” by the president’s campaigning on the issue.
“[Obama] wants to go out there and act like this is something close to his heart and that he’s really feeling for college students, when before he was running for president, it clearly wasn’t that big of a deal to him,” Vaughn said, referring to the votes Obama missed as a senator.
Brandy Reitter, president of the Denver Young Democrats, said that both the Republican and Democratic parties are always doing their best to court young independent voters.
She described the process of courting young independents as “hit or miss,” and said that the economic indicators from the last quarter will greatly help Democrats in building momentum to achieve that end, as well as the policies Obama has advocated for as president.
Reitter indentified the Affordable Care Act, which allows people under the age of 26 to stay on their parent’s healthcare plans, as an example of why Obama is currently enjoying a strong lead over Romney among young voters.
She pointed out that the Stafford loan interest rate issue is another good example of Romney’s lagging behind the president when it comes to channeling issues with broad appeal to the youth voting block.
“Now Mitt Romney is sort of coming around, but Obama has been all over this for a long time, and that really speaks to his passion for the youth and investing in our future,” Reitter said.
Is higher education tuition pricing the next housing market bubble?
Brian Davidson, a CU Boulder faculty physician and a Republican candidate for CU regent at large, said that Stafford interest loan rates should be kept “as low as possible.”
Davidson drew a stark analogy when diagnosing the problem with rising tuition and student interest loan rates, comparing the situation to the housing market bubble prior to the 2008 financial crisis.
“We’re in a cycle where the cost of education goes up, and then the government comes in to act as a bank and provide more loans, which causes students to be price insensitive,” Davidson said. “That allows money to flow pretty easily, which further drives up the cost.”
In the analogy, Davidson emphasized that there are no “evil actors” or bad intentions. He said the universities act as mortgage brokers, “floating the deal.” The government then acts as the bank, and students can be compared to those who are seeking to buy a home.
Davidson pointed out that much like property values, the economic value of a degree has been steadily dropping, along with the cost of knowledge, which could prove to be a deadly combination.
“Anybody with a $300 computer and an internet connection can get online and learn about 80 percent of what they’re going to learn in a three-credit, $1,000 class,” Davidson said. “What higher education has failed to do is recognize that they have to close that gap on the last 20 percent. They are charging a price that is not congruent with what they are providing.”