At first glance, the millennial vote might seem like a lost cause for the Republican Party.
No doubt Obama has proven to be very popular amongst the youth in America: 18- to 29-year-olds broke for Obama 66%-32% in 2008 and 60%-37% in 2012. Indeed, the GOP hasn’t won a majority of the youth vote since the 1980s.
But what you may not know is that the youth vote also hasn’t made up more than 20% of the overall electorate in the last 20 years.
Voter turnout amongst 18- to 29-year-olds has always hovered around 50% for the last 40 years, much lower than the 70% turnout average for voters 30+ years of age. Even in Obama’s 2008 historical election performance, turnout amongst millennials only jumped from 49% in 2004 to 51% in 2008. So while Obama’s youth supporters may be enthusiastic and loud about their love, he’s hardly increased overall voter turnout amongst that age group.
We also see a lot of parallel voting patterns between age and race. Overall, whites broke for Romney 59%-39%; which is the biggest share of the white vote any Republican candidate has won since 1988. Romney’s share of the white vote compromised 43% of the overall electorate while Obama’s made up 29% of the overall electorate. But minorities are what made up the difference. Blacks broke for Obama 93%-6% and Latinos did the same by 71%-27%. In fact, Romney’s share of the minority vote compromised only 5% of the overall electorate while Obama’s was 22%, helping clinch his 51% majority victory.
Many Republicans have started to take notice of the voting trends of minorities among both parties.
Millennials were no different. White millennials broke for Romney 51%-44%, while black millennials broke for Obama 91%-8% and Latino millennials by 74%-23%.
So how do Republicans change this? The answer isn’t simple. Many people view this problem simply through ideological lenses while others can’t see beyond cultural differences. The truth is it’s a bit of both.
1. Cultural Icons
Barack Obama is a cultural icon. So was Ronald Reagan. Both were very popular amongst 18- to 29-year-olds.
Regardless of what some of today’s far-right conservatives think, Reagan understood that elections are won by addition, not subtraction. He practiced the politics of inclusion, not exclusion. He took his message of freedom, individual responsibility and less government to anyone and any group who would listen. He never tried to exclude anyone from his coalition. He didn’t say, “I want your vote … unless you’re a homosexual who wants equal marriage rights or a woman who wants to keep abortion legal or an illegal immigrant who wants to stay in this country or ….”
I’ve never understood how conservatives plan on winning elections when they keep shaving off one group after another from a potential winning coalition. Neither did Reagan. Elections are won by addition, not subtraction.
While conservatives are tearing each other apart in Republican primaries to achieve ideological purity, Democrats will take anyone they can get in any state who can win with a (D) next to their name, from Evangelical Christian Mark Pryor in Arkansas to NRA-supporting, pro-lifer Joe Donnelly in Indiana.
Interestingly, the two Republican cultural icons that have come to develop the strongest followings, Reagan and former libertarian-leaning GOP Congressman Ron Paul, also happen to be two of the oldest guys to ever run for president. Yet both were widely popular amongst America’s youth. There must be something about sticking to that message of freedom, individual responsibility, and less government … for ALL Americans.
2. “Republicans Don’t Care About You.”
Say what you want about George W. Bush, but “compassionate conservatism” won elections. The fundamental problem that the GOP is suffering from today is the public misconception that they “only care about rich, white guys.” Is part of that a mainstream media-generated fire fueled by Democratic talking points? Of course.
But when George W. Bush supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (as much of a failure as it was) which would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for approximately 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants, he got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004 – the most of any Republican presidential candidate in history. When Bush supported the No Child Left Behind Act (as much of a failure as it was), he got 48% of the women vote in 2004 – the most of any Republican presidential candidate since the 1980s.
Right or wrong, success or failure, at the end of the day the majority doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
3. Millennials Are Socially Liberal First and Foremost
Millennials are the most diverse and least traditional generation in America. They are 39% non-white, have the highest number of single-parent households, and are the least affiliated with organized religion. Divisive social issues will not win over this demographic.
I’ve tried winning them over on free market economics, constitutionally-limited government and infinite upward mobility. I’ve pointed out how millennials have been hit worse by the Great Recession than any other age group. I’ve explained why today’s millennials are graduating college in debt and fearing there won’t be any jobs waiting for them in the workforce, fearing that they’ll be living with less than their parents did because young people want a bright future and want to believe or at least hope that tomorrow will be better than today.
But trying to reform entitlements so that our generation can even hope to have a safety net when we’re eligible for them or trying to reverse an apathetic acceptance of lower standards and a generation of mediocrity just isn’t as emotional for young people as social issues. They will put gay marriage, abortion rights and environmentalism above their own careers and safety nets. They will continue voting for a party that is bankrupting their future, leaving them with no jobs and no safety nets but plenty of debt and destruction just because of the social issues. Republicans have to drop the Bible-thumping moral crusade into the bedroom.
4. Millennials’ Heads Are Getting Filled with a Lot of Anti-Capitalist Garbage
According to a Pew Research Center poll, almost half (49%) of young people at the collegiate and post-college level hold a favorable view of socialism – way more than any other age group. Only 43% of millennials hold a favorable view of capitalism, making this the only age group where support for socialism outweighs support for capitalism.
As I have identified before, this is a reflection of a wider myth that Republicans still have to work on debunking. Long before the 2012 election, I’ve been alarmed at the disturbing amount of Americans who believe that the 2008 recession was caused by “the failure of capitalism” (thank you self-described socialist Michael Moore).
As my colleague on PolicyMic, Gary Patterson, Jr. rightfully identified, it was the big government-driven affordable housing crusade which triggered the Great Recession. And it was precisely government intervention which turned a thriving housing market industry into a swamp, as I explained in Part 1 of my three-part series debunking the economic myths of the Obama campaign. But exit poll data reveals this myth to still be alive and well among the general public – most alarmingly with the millennial generation.
5. Cultural Leaders Have To Make It OK to be Republican Again
Ask any Republican in a major metropolitan area in any blue state if most of their neighbors even know if they lean right. Go ahead and ask them, if you can even identify them.
Most Republicans in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere are still in the closet.
Why? Because it’s not “cool” to be Republican. When most hardcore liberals find out you have an (R) next to your name, they try to guilt trip you into admitting that you must hate gays, women, minorities, the poor, and puppies and will brand you as a social outcast. You might as well wear a white robe and carry the Confederate flag with you everywhere you go.
I’ve sat on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Young Republicans for 18 months now. I can’t tell you how many Republican millennials view us as a God send in the Chicagoland area. “I had no idea you guys existed! I’m so afraid to say anything on campus! I have so many other friends who want to be around other Republicans, can I bring them?”
That’s why we’re the largest Young Republican chapter in the nation with over 1,000 members and growing. That’s why we’re hosting the next National Young Republican Convention. That’s why Huffington Post noticed our 2012 music video and is asking where our version of the Harlem Shake is.
We host social events, fundraisers, and pub crawls. We’re now expanding into yoga classes, cooking classes, dancing classes and other activities. We work hard come election time with phone banks, precinct walks and rallies but party even harder because we understand the critical importance of making it culturally comfortable to be an out-of-the-closet Republican in a big blue city.