June 13 2013
During the 2012 election, young voters could have abandoned President Barack Obama, expressing their disappointment with the tough job market, an uncertain overall economy, and his failure to deliver anything resembling "hope and change." That didn't happen: Young voters stuck with Democrats, overwhelmingly supporting Obama over his Republican challenger.
From a Republican perspective, there seems to be a disconnect between the impact of Democratic policies on the lives of young people and which political party young people favor. Looking forward, the question is can Republicans make that connection? If so, how?
Many pundits dismiss young voters as a lost cause for Republicans -- they presume, for example, that a message supporting the value of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free enterprise won't resonate with young voters. The College Republican National Committee isn't buying into that story line. Instead, the CRNC is taking steps to figure out how Republican candidates can better reach young voters, publishing a report this month, The Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, detailing its research and offering suggestions.
The report concludes that Republicans need a "fundamental re-thinking of how we can connect our policy ideas to the broad narrative of economic growth and opportunity, and how we can credibly demonstrate that a Republican vote is an intelligent move."
While the report offers plenty of criticism of the Republican Party and analyzes its technology, policy and brand shortcomings, where the report is particularly valuable is in those places where it offers concrete suggestions based on original research for how to appeal to young people.
For example, supporters of smaller government and fiscal responsibility shouldn't give up hope: There is a way to make their message more appealing to this audience. While the young people studied seemed to be unclear on what criticisms of "big government" even meant, similar messages, such as the need to cut spending, did resonate with young voters. Across all six focus groups, respondents generally agreed that government was spending too much. Thus, a change in how an issue is discussed can make a positive difference. In this case, they can build support for fiscal responsibility by focusing specifically on cutting spending rather than talking more generally about "big government."
But this doesn't mean the process will be easy.
Take the issue of health care. A number of studies have shown that Millennials are likely to be hit with increased health care premiums as a result of the Affordable Care Act. According to a comprehensive joint House-Senate report released earlier this year, younger Americans could see their premiums climb by as much as 189 percent. Another study predicts a 42 percent increase for those between the ages of 21 and 29 due to the Affordable Care Act's age rating restriction.
According to research cited in the report, while health care is a second-tier issue behind the economy and the national debt, 41 percent of the young people surveyed thought the overall impact of the Affordable Care Act would be positive, and young people preferred how Democrats handled health care by a 63-37 margin. That's a big gap, which won't be easy to close. And, once again, a large segment of young people, perhaps unknowingly, support the Party that advocated for policies that will likely hurt them financially.
Young voters haven't always skewed so heavily for Democrats. President Ronald Reagan, for example, won the youth vote. Republicans should be encouraged that the report found that the message of cutting spending, traditionally associated with the Republican Party, does resonate with young voters.
The CRNC is taking an important first step of recognizing the need to reach young voters more effectively and researching how to do so. Republicans need to capitalize on this information, and go further to figure out how to connect the dots between the political parties' policy positions and the actual impact those policies have on people's economic prospects. If they don't, the GOP may be in for continuing electoral disappointments.