What is the future of the Republican Party? As was mentioned in yesterday’s post, the GOP has been trying to find improved ways of reaching out to voters who did not support them in the 2012 elections. One important segment that still needs to be captured is the youth vote.
On Monday the College Republican National Committee released a 95 page report entitled the Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation that focuses on 18-29 year olds.
The report is based on two national surveys of 800 registered voters in this age group, and “six focus groups of young people, including Hispanics, Asian-Americans, single women, economically struggling men and aspiring entrepreneurs” who voted for President Barack Obama in key swing states in the 2012 election but were open to Republican ideals.
It is said to be “far more candid than other post-mortems” of the 2012 election in dissecting Republican missteps that alienated younger voters in that election. And since it comes from the party’s own youth wing, it may present a rather ominous view of the party’s future.
Why doesn’t the Republican Party appeal to more younger voters? Here are seven reasons that this report uncovers:
1. Poor messaging on jobs and the economy
While the younger voting block supports an emphasis on jobs and the economy, they were put off by the way the GOP framed these issues in the last election campaign. For example,
Our focus on taxation and business issues has left many young voters thinking they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business. We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.
2. Wrong priorities
The focus groups characterize Republicans as being strong on defense but this is not necessarily a good thing, especially if spending on the military takes priority over spending on domestic programs. Most participants believe that money is being spent on the wrong things. Education deserves more, not less, funding and twice as many think “we should have a smaller defense budget and leaner military” as think the military should be larger.
While certainly wanting America to be able to defend itself and have a strong military, many questioned why the U.S. military budget was much greater than that of other countries.
The Republican emphasis on cutting taxes and reducing the size of government also seems misguided. Many want the government to provide a greater role in financing student loans, encouraging job creation, fixing the housing crisis, and addressing environmental concerns. When it comes to cutting taxes, 54% say that taxes should actually go up for the wealthy, while only 3% say taxes should be cut.
3. Poor handling of health care
Although Republicans have repeatedly called for the repeal of Obamacare, 63% of the young voters surveyed prefer the Democrats’ handling of health care. Only 37% say that repealing Obamacare would make them better off.
Many of the young people in our focus groups note that they thought everyone in America should have access to health coverage. … Those with loved ones who had had trouble getting health care before were hopeful that the Affordable Care Act would make sure their family and friends would have access when they needed it.
4. Too much emphasis on entitlements
Entitlement reform is far less of a priority for these young voters than jobs and the economy. While 21% of respondents say that “fixing programs like Social Security and Medicare” is one of the two or three things they wish most political leaders would do, the report also states that
Many young people have already assumed these programs will go bankrupt before their retirement.
They are concerned about these long-term developments, but are focused on more immediate issues like repaying student loans, finding a good job and saving to purchase a home.
5. Problems with immigration policy
The Millennial generation is more ethnically diverse than older generations, and the large number of non-white voters among today’s youth presents a significant challenge for the Republican Party. The CRNC report notes that,
The immigration debate may set up a ‘gateway issue.’ For voters who are undecided but have a connection to communities affected by immigration policy, the issue can certainly turn voters away.
Although some Republican lawmakers have taken the position that illegal immigrants should be barred from becoming American citizens, the policy position most favoured by these young voters is that “illegal immigrants should have a path to earn citizenship.” One respondent complained that
Republicans did not do an adequate job differentiating between legal immigrants, illegal immigrants who have committed no other crime, and those who are here illegally and break other laws.
6. Extreme positions on abortion and sexuality
The CRNC report notes that
the Republican Party has been painted — both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — as holding the most extreme anti-abortion positions.
Yet millennials are much more moderate in their views. 48% of those surveyed say abortion should be legal “up to a certain point,” while only 14% think abortion should always be illegal.
The report also notes that, “Perhaps no topic has gotten more attention with regards to the youth vote than the issue of gay marriage.” It reports,
young people are unlikely to view homosexuality as morally wrong, and they lean toward legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
In all, 44% of the young voters surveyed say that same-sex marriage should be legal across the country, while another 26% say that it should be up to states to decide how they wish to recognize or allow same-sex marriages.
Yet very few Republican lawmakers and political candidates have come out in favor of same-sex marriages. Since this issue is so divisive, a question was inserted in the survey to test the extent to which opposition to same-sex marriage constituted a “deal-breaker” for young voters. It was found that
about a quarter (26%) of young people say they’d probably or definitely not vote for a candidate who opposes gay marriage even if they were in agreement on many other issues.
7. General image problem
Young voters are not greatly enamored with either political party. Nevertheless, while 41% of the respondents surveyed have a favorable view of the Democratic Party compared to 44% who view them unfavorably, only 33% have a positive view of the Republican Party compared to 53% with an unfavorable view.
When asked what words come to mind when younger voters hear the term “Democratic Party,” the most common answers are “tolerant,” “diverse” and “open-minded.” When they are asked to say what words come to mind when they hear “Republican Party,” the words they choose most often are “closed-minded,” “racist,” “rigid” and “old-fashioned.”
When asked which words least describe the GOP, the words that surface are “open-minded,” “tolerant,” “caring” and “cooperative.” This points to an enormous image problem for the Republican Party. In the eyes of many young people the GOP possesses precisely the opposite qualities of the Democratic Party.
And what qualities do young people themselves identify as being of greatest value? When the respondents are asked to choose the word that best finishes the sentence, “I hope people see me as … ,” the word topping the list is “intelligent.” In a nod to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who warned against Republicans being seen as the “stupid party,” the report states,
For the GOP, being thought of as closed-minded is hardly a good thing. But if the GOP is thought of as the “stupid party,” it may as well be the kiss of death.
Overall, the report from the College Republican National Committee tries to set a positive tone, saying,
the Republican Party has won the youth vote before and absolutely can win it again. But this will not occur without significant work to repair the damage done to the Republican brand among this age group over the last decade.
To accomplish this goal the Republican Party will have to do more than just rebrand its current message. It will need to connect with young voters by addressing the issues that are of greatest importance to them. This means thoroughly reshaping the core policies of the Republican Party itself. The report concludes,
Economic growth and opportunity policies cannot just be about tax cuts and spending cuts. To win young voters, this agenda must include a range of policies, and they must also be about removing barriers to getting a good education, removing barriers to entrepreneurship, and addressing the challenges of our nation’s health care and immigration systems.
It is a daunting task. Will the older generation of Republican leaders heed the call of their younger members? The future of the party may well depend on it.