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Youth Vote Remains an Elusive Target for Republicans

Tampa, Fla. — A panel discussion on generational differences may sound like an opportunity for a glorified version of a “kids these days!” rant. But here in Florida, where those “kids” represent a crucial voting bloc that both mainstream political parties are trying to court in this election, an intergenerational roundtable is a political proposition worthy of an event alongside the Republican National Convention.

Young voters tilted the scale in Florida for President Obama in 2008, according to Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor of political science who moderated an independent panel discussion on Tuesday hosted by the Young Invincibles, a nonprofit youth advocacy group. In this year’s election, Democrats are seeking to maintain enthusiasm for Mr. Obama while Republicans are desperately seeking to make inroads among college-age voters, she said.

Panelists at the event agreed that higher education and the cost of college are leading issues for young voters.

“My student loans will probably outlive me,” said Patrick Cannon, a local health-care advocate, echoing several remarks by younger panelists who described their struggles to finance a college education.

Young voters are also rethinking the value of a college education and a degree, and placing more emphasis on the importance of practical job training, several panelists said.

Others added that instant communication through social media, a lack of interpersonal skills, and other alleged generational traits sometimes make this demographic group difficult to engage.

“Nothing is instantaneous in life. We have employees who work for three months and think they should be owning the company,” said Nick Friedman, 30, a co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk, a moving company.

Mr. Friedman, who also works with young entrepreneurs and invests in young start-up companies, said that young people tended to become disillusioned if they didn’t succeed at something quickly, adding that, as a society, “we need to be celebrating process and not just the end result.”

Colleges students, as a whole, aren’t necessarily more apathetic than previous generations of young people, argued Sarah Capps, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at South Florida. They just may not engage in traditional politics in the ways their predecessors did.

“They still get upset when a red-light camera goes up,” she said, “but they don’t know who is on city council” to complain to about it.

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