The GOP and the Generation Gap

In my second article examining the deficiencies of the Republican Party’s ability to connect with voters, I will be covering the impending collapse of the national party, also known as the generational gap. Overstatement much? Some might try to discard the generation gap as a non-pressing issue or a long-term issue without immediate consequence. I’m here today to dump a cold bucket of water on that pipe dream, but I also hope to shed light on a possible path forward.

It’s an undeniable political reality that young voters have made up a key demographic in the Democratic coalition. 66 percent of millennial voters cast their ballot for President Obama in 2008 and 60 percent cast their ballot for him in 2012. Who are these young voters who have apparently so strongly cast their lot with the Democratic Party? Data tells us that millennials are less religious, more racially diverse, more liberal, and less patriotic than previous generations. In combination that makes the Republican Party seem an anathema to those voters. Even more troubling for the Republican establishment;  more often than not those millennials that do identify with the Republican Party have serious breaks with traditional Republicans in terms of ideological identification, issue stances, and candidates. Younger Republicans have come to largely identify as libertarians or libertarian-conservatives, and have lent their support to candidates who have supported such philosophy such as Ron and Rand Paul. Perhaps most notably, they have broken with the party when it comes to religiously-based social issues. Simply put the average 18-33 year-old voter has little in common with the traditional Republican.

A common rebuttal among the older generation is that even if younger voters are liberal now, they will eventually grow out of their views and become more conservative later in life. Such thoughts are likely wishful thinking.  “The Transformation of Generation X: Shifts in Religious and Political Self-Identification 1990-2008”, an almost two decade long comparison of the views of Generation X as they evolved into adulthood, documented some interesting findings. People in Generation X had become less religious, more likely to be employed full-time, more likely to have attended college, and more likely to identify as Democrat between 1990 and 2008. While certainly there are plenty of individuals who have adjusted their views to the experiences of adulthood, most people will formulate their lifelong social values in their teens and twenties. However, even should a voter grow fatigued with a particular party, their innate social and economic values are not likely to change vastly over time; and if they do it’s not always guaranteed or even likely that it will be in favor of a more conservative world view.

So then, what hope is there for a political party which is largely out of line with the upcoming generation, and is dependent on a generation which is hitting the age of retirement? There are a few immediate and long term solutions that I will suggest.

Stay Relevant

In the age of Facebook, Texting, E-mails, Skype, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, MySpace, Reddit, and Lord-only-knows how many more ways to communicate and post information, being relevant is not easy. However, keeping up with and taking advantage of social media is only a start. Not only must conservative messaging keep up with the forms of communication, it must also speak to the values and in the language that appeals to millenials.

Now what in the heck does that mean?

What that means is that the issues which matter most to younger voters are those that are least likely to be championed in the media. Sure, Obamacare has lost its flair among the millennial voters.  But when have Republicans in Congress taken seriously the enormous burden that is facing younger voters in college loan debt, or moving education to a model that more strongly emphasizes career readiness?  The Republican Party still has yet to commit itself to reforming the vast unconstitutional overreach of the NSA and the TSA, yet proclaims its love of limited government. All the while younger voters are getting glimpses of a Republican Party which not only emulates but emphasizes a set of values that appeals to a generation of voters 30-40 years older.

The Republican Party can break this trend by staying on top of the issues that matter most to millenials, and discussing how conservative solutions can directly benefit those voters. With a strong capitalist approach toards economics and an individualistic attitude towards social problems, the small-government laissez-faire philosophy resonates well with this generation. The Republican Party would not only have to emphasize these issues in political rhetoric, but actually enact them into policy; no easy task.

Don’t Get Caught Up in Patriotism, Constitutionality, and Rule of Law

I know I already have some hackles raised on this one. RINO!!!!!!! I know is going through a few minds right now. Stop, pause, and take a breath.

I do not mean to suggest that the Republican Party should abandon these principles. In fact I believe that these need to remain a core part of our party and what we stand for. However, as a whole the millennial generation has fallen out of touch with these. While the constitutionality of a law might make a difference to your average Baby Boomer or Silent Generation voter, it is not especially important to those from the younger generations. Constitutional muster is simply a pathway to enact the law you desire.  Whether it falls into original intent of the Constitution is a largely irrelevant matter, as long as you have the votes of the current Supreme Court. More important questions that resonate with the younger generation are: How does this law affect me? How does the law affect the economy? How does the law affect other people? Is the law socially tolerant and accepting?

In the same vein focusing too much on the process by which the Obama administration governs matters much less to your average voter under 30. Much fanfare has been made over the number of executive orders that the Obama administration has signed, and the methods by which he has selectively enforced certain laws. Attacking President Obama on these points can certainly gain some sympathy among some voters, but by and large you won’t get many voters upset at the President bypassing Congress to enact a policy they otherwise support.

Most sadly for me, patriotism has become a de-emphasized value in this generation. The good news is that messaging based on patriotic values will likely not hurt with millennial voters.  The bad news is that it won’t help either, and the Republican Party has done a lot of messaging based solely on patriotism.

Patriotism, the Rule of Law, and respect for Constitutional authority are all essential building blocks to the Republican Party. A key step in staying a principled and strong political party is rebuilding those values in our current and future generations. Such an endeavor, however, is a long-term political project and necessity. In the short term, using them as the basis for issue or candidate messaging will only wind up with continued losses among younger voters.

Stay Positive

While the American public has grown disenfranchised with the political system as a whole, this is especially true for younger voters. The extreme disapproval of Congress and President Obama, the economic meltdown, and the multiple foreign wars have left younger voters without a lot of faith in their government. At the bottom of those things that they trust and respect is the Republican Party. For all the reasons stated above, the Republicans have failed to gain a positive image in the eyes of the under 30 voter.

If the Republican Party ever hopes to change this, they must change their messaging. Millennial voters tend to be an optimistic group with high hopes for our future. Emphasize how Republican policies can make that future stronger and brighter. Positive to negative messaging should be easily 4:1. Negative messaging needs to be rare, on point, and beyond a doubt factually proven to be true. Sending a chain e-mail to your friends saying that Obama is a Nigerian-born Muslim might make you feel good, but to the younger voter all it does is delegitimize any other political arguments you might make. Instead, try sending a chain e-mail about how Republican policies will benefit the economy!

See article from last week.

Racial Diversity is More Important than You Think

The younger generation is racially diverse and becoming more so. In fact, more babies were born non-white than white in 2013. Hurray! The Democrats are bound to be the permanent majority. Unless, that is, Republicans substantially step up their racial minority outreach quickly. I will not go into this category much more in this article as it is the topic planned for my next article. Just remember that next time the party discusses Hispanic outreach, Asian outreach, or Black community outreach, we are discussing not only a present minority but a likely future majority of our country.

The Social Issues Need a Break

Again an issue I plan for a future article, likely next week. Much has been said of the social civil war that has divided the GOP, often with one side declaring that they will leave if they don’t get their way. As it relates to younger voters, however, the message is clear: younger voters by and large do not buy into the Judeo-Christian model that was set up by Republicans in the 80s and 90s. Even those who already actively participate in the Republican Party are sharply divided on social issues at best. This is not likely to change. While some factions within the Republican Party recognize this, others have doubled down on their opposition, saying that they would rather see the party fail than to compromise on what they view as core fundamental issues. Regardless of what social conservatives feel about the veracity of their arguments, a shift in Republican social policy will not only be inevitable with time but necessary to maintain electoral viability.

Take Advantage of Your Opponents’ Missteps

President Obama has done a huge favor for Republicans; he has created an opening. Always remember the old adage, ‘never stop your opponents when they are making a mistake’, and boy have Democrats stepped in it. Polling has shown a massive collapse in millennial support for President Obama and his policies. The same voters who put him in office now view his presidency with disapproval and his policies with contempt. This means that they’ll all start pulling the voting lever straight ticket R right? It depends on whether the Republicans can properly take advantage of the opportunity. Younger voters at this moment know why they dislike the current administration and its policies, but have not been sold on why they should support the Republican Party. It is incumbent on the party to prove why younger voters should support conservative policies and candidates, and how it will benefit their lives positively, something that has not been done to this point. Finally and most importantly, if millennials decide to make the Republican Party their home, it must be willing to adapt its politics, candidates, and policies to accommodate these new voters.  Otherwise they will find their way back to their natural home as either independents or as Democratic voters.