In the past few months, there has been no shortage of Republican autopsies on the GOP performance in the 2012 presidential election, nor has there been a shortage of apologists who maintain that the party need only change its rhetoric and adopt a “youthful” image to attract women, minorities and young people.
However, according to the latest of these post-mortems, which focused on voters aged 18-29, the millennial generation is calling for much more than a change in rhetoric. The detailed report, released last Monday by The College Republican National Committee (CRNC), did not mince words. At a national level, it says, the GOP is a “party that will pat you on your back when you make it, but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there,” and warns that the youth vote will only be won if “significant work” is done “to repair the damage done to the Republican brand among [the 18-29] age group over the last decade.”
However, despite the fact that the report cites “outrageous statements made by errant Republican voices” as being a primary reason that the GOP is perceived as ideologically rigid and intolerant among young voters, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, speaking to two CRNC spokeswomen last Tuesday Night, referred to the American youth as “a bunch of kids who don’t know anything.”
Given O'Reilly's wayward statement, it is not terribly surprising that when millennial voters were asked what words they associated with the Republican Party, the results were “closed-minded, racist, rigid,” and “old-fashioned.”
Moreover, O’Reilly’s emphasis on the “dismal” economy follows the traditional party strategy of winning votes by capitalizing on disenchantment with the slow economic recovery. Such concepts complement long-established ideals about deficit reduction and cutting the size of government, issues on which young Republicans rarely differ from older generations of Republicans. However, with a mindset orientated toward the future, many of the youngest leaders of the Republican Party have adopted stances on social issues that are at odds with the traditional conservative platform.
In taking all of their ideals and ideas together, young Republicans present a nuanced mix of political ideals that could fundamentally change the support basis of the GOP over time. However, the older Republicans must first learn to listen to GOP youth leaders if they hope to re-energize their young people – a group that had one of the lowest turnout levels in the history of presidential elections in 2008 and did not turn out in strong numbers in the 2012 election.
Ultimately, gaining the youth vote is not about having a “charismatic candidate,” as O’Reilly resolves. It is about political leaders and pundits being attuned to and respecting the opinions, attitudes, and intellect of the millennial generation.