I am a young voter. The Republican Party is my political home. I am also a conservative libertarian. However, I am not the norm in my generation. According to recent polling, Barack Obama is defeating Mitt Romney among young voters by more than 20 percentage points. Republicans need to find a way to reverse this trend because once young voters become accustomed to voting Democratic, it becomes much harder to persuade them to vote GOP. I will try to outline some ideas on how the Republican Party can attract this constituency not just for 2012 but in the future.
1) Take Them Seriously
Some former College Republican leaders have complained to me how Republican Party officials don’t take their clubs and young people in general seriously. The attitude among many Republican strategists and politicos is that they see the College Republican clubs and the Young Republican organizations as nothing more than a source of free campaign labor. Contrast this attitude with the one that Democrats and the left have. They see young people as an important part of the progressive coalition. They go out of their way to give them leadership positions and pander to them as they would gays and racial minorities. Finally, they actually go out and ask for the votes of young people.
How Republicans can change this is simple. First of all, focus more on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Utilize those platforms not just to get the message out, but to actually engage young voters and make them feel like their voices are being heard. Secondly, invest more in the College Republicans and the Young Republicans to build not just an activist base, but a base for future Republican leaders. Republican candidates should also start visiting college campuses and actually go out and talk to young people. This actually worked well for Ron Paul in the Republican primaries. Finally, don’t be afraid to use pop culture as a messaging mechanism to reach young people.
2) Quit Focusing On Social Issues and Be Bold On Jobs and The Economy
First of all, I do not want to throw Rick Santorum and his supporters out of the Republican Party. They deserve to have a voice at the table and politics and political parties are all about building coalitions. However, what has to change if the Republican Party is to have a chance with young people is the absurd focus on gays and abortion. There is very little that can be done at the Federal level on either issue. Instead, focus on jobs and the economy. Besides, the fact of the matter is, nobody really cares about social issues except the activists.
In fact, be bold on those issues. Don’t advocate Obama-lite policies of borrowing and spending, bailouts, and crony capitalism. Advocate bold free market stances on everything from energy to entitlements.
3) Don’t Pander To Young People
The thing about the above strategies is that Republicans can do these to appeal to all Americans. One of the most poisonous things about the progressive movement is how they engage in divisive identity politics. If we’re going to build a political party that is based upon the rights of the individual, we need to engage all Americans as individuals, not as groups. A bold, free market message on rebuilding our economy can and should appeal to all Americans, regardless of their background. The only thing that may have to change is how that message is delivered.