The Republican Party as we know it has a young people problem — and it's not going away anytime soon.
New data from the Pew Research Center lends further evidence that the Republican Party's "struggles in appealing to young people" are going to cause major problems for the GOP in the coming years. While the transition between the latest generations of Democrats has gone rather smoothly — young people tend to be ideologically very similar to their older counterparts — the Pew data suggest that values of younger Republicans are significantly different than those of their predecessors in the party. While the Tea Party has managed to maintain a stranglehold on Congress, Pew's latest report suggests that the next generation of Republicans may hold the key to sweeping more conservative politicians out of office.
Here's what the new breed of Republican looks like:
They're way less likely to identify as "conservative." According to Pew, just 15% of millennials describe their political views as "mostly" or "consistently" conservative, compared with 25% of Gen Xers, 34% of Baby Boomers and 38% of the "Silent Generation."
While this is to be expected — each generation tends to be significantly more liberal than the previous one — the transition is especially stark among Republicans and Republican-leaners: Some 31% identify as mostly or consistently conservative, a significant difference from the 53% of Gen Xers and 64% of Boomers. By contrast, Democrats and Democratic-leaners have remained ideologically consistent, with 59% of Millennials, 54% of Gen Xers and 57% of Boomers identifying as mostly or consistently liberal.
They're more liberal on social issues: Younger Republicans are also consistently more liberal on gay marriage, immigration and environmentalism than older generations, and about half say corporations make too much profit.
They're less critical of government. Millennial Republicans are significantly less likely to think that government is "almost always wasteful and inefficient," although respondents did tend to mirror the party line on whether government-supported programs for the needy were unaffordable.
What does this mean? The generational divide was less significant between older and younger Democrats, indicating that the next generation of American voters, whether Democratic or Republican, are becoming significantly more liberal on a host of issues.
This also means that days of the Tea Party are likely numbered. While the new generation of Republicans is more moderate than those which preceded it, an older cadre of extremely active GOP politicians, along with the Tea Party conservatives who flooded Congress following President Barack Obama's election in 2008, have swung the party at large further to the right than it perhaps has been in a 100 years.
As Tom Mann of the Brookings Institute and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in 2012:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
Few of these are attractive traits to young Republicans, who will face the additional challenge of guiding the party through an increasingly multicultural America. America's right wing is aging quickly; the youngest possible person to have cast a vote for Ronald Reagan on Nov. 6, 1984 would now be 47 years old, while most Boomers are rapidly approaching retirement.
British National Party spokesman and writer Arthur Kemp is famous for coining the phrase "demographics is destiny." While many political observers have argued that the increasingly diverse population of the U.S. is no guarantee that the Republican Party will go the way of the woolly mammoth, the Pew data presents a compelling argument that the traditionally conservative components of the GOP are losing favor among the next generation of votes.
And Republicans can't deny these realities forever: If the GOP wants to appeal to the next generation, it needs to start looking very seriously at its priorities. Chances are, this means that the Tea Party and its ilk, despite state and federal victories around the country, are facing an uphill battle against the rising tide of millennial voters.