URBANDALE, IA - AUGUST 06: U.S. Rand Paul (R-KY) fields questions and greets guests after speaking at an event hosted by the Iowa GOP Des Moines Victory Office on August 6, 2014 in Urbandale, Iowa. Paul, who is expected to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, was on a three-day eight-city tour of Iowa, the first state to select the presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Rand Paul Has a Moment, Millennials Shrug

Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg View columnist, is a senior editor for National Review, where he has covered national politics for more than 20 years, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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While I was on vacation, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the possibility of a "libertarian moment" in politics. The idea was that a public dissatisfied with war, government surveillance and excess regulation, while increasingly liberal on some social issues, may be newly attuned to the libertarian worldview.

One question author Robert Draper took up was whether the Republican Party could increase its appeal to young voters by moving in a libertarian direction, specifically by relaxing its opposition to gay marriage and pot while asserting its defense of individual liberty and free markets.

Senator Rand Paul, whose face graced the cover, frequently says so. He might be right. But it's worth noting that in his only election so far, Paul -- the face of this libertarian moment -- didn't do especially well among young voters.

The Kentucky senator was elected in the 2010 Republican congressional wave, getting 56 percent of the vote. According to exit polls, voters younger than 30 went narrowly for his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway. Paul got 48 percent of them. That's not much better than fellow Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri (who got 44 percent the same year) and Rob Portman of Ohio (45 percent). And it's worse than John Boozman of Arkansas (51 percent).

Maybe the raw percentages are misleading, because we need to correct for the partisan leanings of the states and the strength of the opposing candidates.

So let's look at the gap between how well the Republican candidates did among the under-30 set and how well they did among seniors. If Paul had a distinctive appeal to young voters, his gap should have been significantly smaller. In fact, the differences among the candidates were microscopic. Paul did 10 percentage points better among seniors than among the young, Blunt 12 points and Boozman 11. (Portman had a bit more of a gap, at 16 points.)

Maybe Paul would do better with young voters as the Republican nominee in 2016 than any of the other possibilities. He makes a plausible case that his brand of politics -- skeptical of military intervention, the drug war and domestic surveillance -- ought to find favor with them.

In its one electoral test so far, though, Paul's brand of Republican politics has done roughly the same as the generic version.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Timothy Lavin at tlavin1@bloomberg.net