Could Ryan Lure Younger Voters To GOP?

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Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the newly chosen vice presidential running mate for Republican Mitt Romney, was in Ohio on Wednesday to speak at his alma mater.

Ryan graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1992 with degrees in economics and political science. And his ascension to the GOP ticket thrills Rob Harellson, a member of the school's College Republicans (as was Ryan, two decades earlier).

"He's young. He's energetic. He's popular. He's rising through the ranks of the Republican Party and in the House," says Harellson. "I think he's a great candidate. He's bringing a lot of energy to the campaign."

At 42, Ryan is the nation's first vice presidential candidate from Generation X. Harellson, 21, thinks Ryan's youth and ideas about the economy will pull more of today's college students to the right.

"I absolutely think that Ryan will appeal to the younger voters with his budget proposal," says Harellson, speaking at Bagel and Deli in downtown Oxford, Ohio, packed with college students fresh off of summer vacation and parents helping them move into the dorms. "It cuts government regulation. It cuts the red tape that's really crippling our economy, and I think that his plan will really resonate."

If that's true, it would be very good news for Republicans who lost a lopsided battle for young voters in the 2008 election against President Obama. Only a third of voters under 30 voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008, which made for the largest disparity between young voters and other age groups since exit polling began in 1972.

"That voting age group, certainly in the last election, skewed to Obama. But they primarily skew toward not voting," says Patrick Haney, a professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio.

Of the students interviewed by NPR at Miami University, Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, only a handful knew the name Paul Ryan, and even fewer knew of his budget plan.

Many said they were either uninterested in the race or planning to check in on it later.

Tyler Hawkins, a senior at Xavier in Cincinnati, put it this way: "[I've] just been busy and, honestly, it's a little boring to me."

According to census data, the youth turnout hit its third-highest rate ever in 2008 at 51 percent. Many expect that number to drop in 2012.

Haney, the political scientist, isn't sure picking Ryan will make much of a difference.

"So, you know, the question is — is a pick like that meant to have some impact on younger voters who ... I guess there was some evidence to suggest were tuning out of this election?" says Haney. "Maybe, but I tend to doubt that age had much to do with the pick."

Haney suspects it has more to do with energizing the Republican base than bringing out the youth vote. Ryan's stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage are more in line with traditional religious conservatives than with typical college students.

Haney adds that, like their elders, young voters usually do not focus on the lower half of the ticket.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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