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Why Ron Paul, graybeard of GOP race, lights up the youth vote

Ron Paul strikes a chord with young voters, who are attracted to his renegade views on foreign policy, the economy, and, yes, marijuana. For some, the very fact that he's so outside the box is the main attraction.

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However, young people tend to latch onto such Paul positions with little investigation into the candidate's views as a whole, adds Professor Naison. The young people who endorsed them had little sympathy with, or even knowledge of, Paul's renunciation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, his opposition to Social Security and Medicare, or his intention to dissolve many federal departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency, he says. 

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Some suggest that one issue alone may be attracting the under-30 crowd to Ron Paul: marijuana. 

“No other [major party] candidate advocates the legalization of marijuana,” says Tracy Davis, a Republican strategist and former George H.W. Bush speechwriter, via e-mail. Pot use among college-age youths has risen dramatically, while use of alcohol and cigarettes has decreased, according to recent in-depth studies. The studies go further, suggesting that the trend applies to a larger demographic of young voters – those between 18 and 30, she adds. “This one issue alone has a huge impact on young voters in America today, who would be thrilled to be able to purchase and smoke marijuana without the fear of being arrested,” writes Ms. Davis.

Then there's the economy. Paul’s outsider status appeals to many young college students concerned about the lackluster economy, says John Johannes, a political scientist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

“Many are scared, apprehensive, and worried [about what the economy holds for them]. At the same time, they don’t have the same 'stake' in politics and economics that older voters have. The messages coming from the other candidates on what should be done, while anti-Obama, may not resonate with younger voters,” he says via e-mail. Younger voters, no less than older ones, “are tired of ten years of war and military intervention in causes that are less than crystal clear,” he says.

Los Angeles Valley College freshman Shanae Jordan echoes these economic concerns. She likes Ron Paul because she thinks he can take the country back to where it was when a college education didn’t cost so much. She pays $35 per unit of college credit, which is quite affordable, but Ms. Jordan says she has friends on other campuses who are working two jobs to pay for tuition.

“His policies will take us back to when you didn’t have to save so much or sacrifice so hard just to get through school,” says the foreign language major.

As for whether Paul can parlay this youthful support into greater political power, Birmingham-Southern's Professor Davis says it’s not likely. “The overall youth vote is largely Democratic, and Paul’s support doesn’t work well with working-class youth,” she says. His support among the young, she adds, “is a college thing.”

Staff writer Daniel B. Wood  contributed to this report.

Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on the economy 

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