Here is my full article from the Wall Street Journal today in case you were not able to read it due to not having a subscription. Enjoy.
How the GOP Can Win Young Voters
With 37% of millennials unemployed or underemployed, the party has a shot.
As the Republican field jockeys for position in the 2012 presidential primaries, it is no surprise to hear the candidates trying to bolster their authority by invoking the name of Ronald Reagan. Yet one critical demographic group will not automatically respond to Reagan’s name: Young voters of the millennial generation, so named because they are the first to come of age in the new millennium.
The oldest members of this generation were just 8 years old when Reagan left office, so Republican candidates can’t assume that invoking his name will win them over. But the eventual Republican nominee should strive to emulate the Gipper by finding a way to connect conservatism to this rising generation of voters.
Reagan brought an entire generation to the Republican Party in 1980, and in 1984 he won the youth vote by 20%. The GOP needs this kind of revolution again if it hopes to recapture the White House and create a sustained majority.
The millennials—born between the beginning of the Reagan era and the end of the Clinton presidency—are the largest age group in America today, numbering approximately 80 million. There are 17 million more millennials than Baby Boomers and 27 million more than Generation Xers (ages 31-45).
Millennials voted two-to-one for Barack Obama and also broke hard for John Kerry in 2004—and partisan identification typically solidifies after three presidential election cycles. Thus the next presidential election is critical. Republicans have 16 months to make their case before millennials cast the vote that could make them Democrats or independents for the rest of their lives.
To have any chance at winning young Americans over in 2012, Republicans must understand what makes millennials tick. While it’s risky to generalize about an entire demographic group, here are three important characteristics of the millennial profile:
• Millennials have been hit worse by the Great Recession than any other age cohort. Fully 37% of millennials are unemployed or underemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Republican nominee should make the case directly to millennials that President Obama’s policies are perpetuating generational theft, while worsening the chances for job creation.
Since President Obama took office the deficit has more than tripled and the debt has skyrocketed. Every dollar Mr. Obama has borrowed or spent is a dollar millennials are going to have to pay back in the years ahead, in the form of higher taxes, a more sluggish economy, or both. Republicans can stress that while the Obama presidency has darkened the fiscal future, they have put forward solutions (such as the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan) to jump-start the economy and salvage the safety net for millennials.
But when talking about the administration’s failed economic policies, Republicans have to be careful not to try to demonize the president himself: 55% of millennials remain fond of him personally, according to a poll published in March by the Harvard Institute of Politics.
• Millennial politics are pragmatic, not ideological. This demographic group includes a higher number of independents (38%) than any other generation, followed by Democrats (37%) and Republicans (22%), according to Pew Research Center findings published in 2010. The millennials’ overwhelming support for Barack Obama in 2008 was a reflection of Republican brand damage, rather than an endorsement of big-government liberalism. Consider that 40% of millennials call themselves moderate and don’t favor an activist role for government in helping the poor, according to Pew.
Millennials were obviously drawn (as were huge numbers of other voters) to Mr. Obama’s campaign rhetoric that challenged Americans to rise above partisanship and help make government work. But since he took office, his administration has steered a leftward course, and government remains gridlocked. Moreover, the president’s propensity to demagogue the issues in order to outmaneuver his opponents has undermined the credibility of his promise to set childish things aside.
In turn, millennials have shown signs of disappointment: For one thing, fewer of them showed up to vote in 2010 than did in the previous midterm election of 2006.
And while they still like the president personally, his job-approval ratings among millennials have dropped by 18 percentage points since January 2009. He has not delivered on his promise of post-partisan change and has even contributed to the kind of demagoguery that millennials dislike.
Republicans therefore have a golden opportunity to win back millennials by articulating positive and pragmatic solutions to issues that affect them—starting with job creation, spending reform, entitlement reform and education reform.
• Millennials are the most diverse and least traditional generation in America. They are 40% nonwhite, have the highest number of single-parent households, and are the least affiliated with organized religion. They are also the only demographic group of which a majority supports same-sex marriage.
In order to win this generation over, Republicans need to minimize their emphasis on social issues and focus instead on jobs, jobs and jobs. The party should also showcase its significant ethnic and gender diversity in the wake of the 2010 elections, when the GOP put three female governors and two Hispanic governors in office. It also has two Indian-American governors, and it has fielded female and African-American presidential candidates. The Republican Party, in other words, is no longer a party of elderly white men.
With a focus on positive, pragmatic alternatives to the tried-and-failed policies of the Obama administration, Republicans have a chance to win back the youth vote. But the party will have to make a persuasive case that it offers the hope and change millennials have been waiting for.
Ms. Hoover is author of “American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party,” out this month from Crown.