How the GOP Can Win Young Voters

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.

Martin Kozlowski
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.


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7 Responses to How the GOP Can Win Young Voters

  1. Oscar July 25, 2011 at 4:57 am #

    Howdy Ms. Hoover. As a member of the millennial generation, I could not agree more with your article. Many members of “my generation” (trying not to overgeneralize) just want a stable economy with a healthy job market. Many of us were promised jobs when we went to college, and once the crash of 08 happened, many of those jobs vanished. We are not really concerned with social issues. In fact, many of us disagree with the GOP on these issues. But if the GOP can help improve our economy and help recreate the job opportunities that were lost in 08, the millennials will reward them. However, if the GOP continues to make social issues like gay marriage and abortion talking points, they will quickly realize that they are preaching to deaf ears. Once again, great article Ms. Hoover. Cheers.

  2. Joaquin July 26, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Where is the facebook like link ?

  3. Ron Maggiano July 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Excellent article, Margaret. I just ordered a copy of your book and look forward to reading it. Congratulations!

  4. Caryn Chaffin July 29, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    I went to see Ms. Hoover at the Nixon Library and I liked her message. Although I am older than the generation that Ms. Hoover was discussing, I have the same values and I have, over the years, become disenchanted with the Republican party. Similar to Ms. Hoover, I am the great-grandaughter of a Republican state senator from South Dakota. I come from a long line of Republican supporters, but I am dismayed by what has happened to the party. I called myself “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” before it was fashionable and railed against the taking over of the party by social conservatives. But no one from my generation was listening. I hope that this new generation – the millenials – will listen and bring the Republican party back from the brink of destruction.

  5. Howard Long MD August 8, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    “Funding – to be paId by posterity – is swindling-!”
    (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, 1816)

    Like Margaret’s great grandfather, Jefferson foresaw.

    I wish she would run for Congress in the district that includes UC Berkeley.

  6. Bill August 13, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Believe it or not there is way that the G.O.P. could unite young voters with social conservatives and at the same time still appeal to the younger voters who are more liberal on social issues. This is for the G.O.P. to fully embrace the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If this occurs almost all moral or social issues will become local or state issues rather than federal issues. A more liberal state like California or New York will probably have laws which are liberal on social issues while a more conservative state like Georiga or Mississippi will likely be conservative on these issues ,and a more moderate state like Ohio will be somewhere in between. Such a plan will not satisfy everyone, but this I believe will come closer than just about any other plan. Such an idea has the potential to unite Republicans who are socially liberal with those who are socially conservative. The G.O.P. should seriously consider going in this direction for the 21st century.

  7. Rbrt August 13, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    As members of the millennial generation would say – good luck with that. The Republican party lost me sometime between the rush to war against Saddam and Rumsfeld mismanagement of it. I was infuriated by Paulson’s actions to cover, without any loses to bondholders, the mismanagement of the banks and the fact that Bush’s SEC missed the whole debacle.

    As to the millennials, as you say, they are socially tolerant, the religious right will never let a like minded Republican win the nomination. But also, while the millennials lean conservative on fiscal issues they are concerned about more than just “jobs, jobs, jobs”. The ones I know are repulsed by a Republican party that is choosing to side with the current super-rich (predominantly old white males) over their generation when it comes to taxing or borrowing to pay for grandma’s health care. It is Republicans after all that have said the nation can not try to cap health care spending and can not raise taxes on the “job creators”. It’s the same party that has sided with corporations on trade deals and job exporting.

    The Democrats may never again capture the hearts of the millennials the way they did in 2008 but the best the Republicans can hope for is that these kids are willing to hold their noses.

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