With a string of primary victories and more expected to follow, Bob Dole is now well on his way to capturing the Republican nomination. But as he solidifies his lead, both he and his advisors would be wise to keep one thing in mind: They need to work on the youth vote. That's because, although leading in delegates and having won the majority of state primaries and caucuses so far, the presumptive Republican nominee has consistently underperformed among voters in the key age group of 18-to-29-year-olds.
This trend was first apparent in Iowa, where Lamar Alexander was the first choice of voters under 30. New Hampshire demonstrated more of the same, as Dole, who lost to Pat Buchanan by just 1 percentage point overall, finished a distant third among 18-to-29-year-olds. (Buchanan won the group, coming in only slightly ahead of Alexander.) Delaware, Arizona and the Dakotas took this pattern one step further. In three of these contests, including North Dakota, which Dole won, he was displaced among Gen-X voters by another candidate, this time Steve Forbes.
Even in South Carolina, which seems to have marked the beginning of the comeback kid's final march, Dole's decisive victory proved to be somewhat less so among those in the younger age group. Interestingly, Alexander, who was all but written off after his fourth-place showing in that state, did twice as well among this constituency.
Now, as the pace picks up and most of his opponents--including Alexander--recede into footnote status, Dole will no doubt gain strength among younger voters. But whether this strength will be real or simply reflect an inevitable winnowing of the field is another matter. The fact remains that, when given a choice, under-30 voters turned to someone else. And come November, even with the weight of the Republican Party behind him, there will be a choice--namely, one between Dole and a popular incumbent president, who in 1992 won the youth vote by a wider margin than that of any other age group. All of which is why Dole had better start articulating a message that resonates more effectively with young Americans (hint: an economic one that emphasizes issues like jobs and education) the way Clinton's did in '92, or he will surely face an uphill battle this fall.