How Republicans Can Win Millennial Voters

Memo to Republicans: If you want to build a lasting coalition, spend less time picking fights over gays holding hands, and more time getting the largest generation out of their parents’ basements. Don’t believe me? Look at a recent Reason-Rupe poll of millennial voters.

Now if you’re a Republican and you’re feeling nervous, let me reassure you that the poll has a lot of good news. For instance, it shows that 57 percent of millennials won’t back larger government if it means their tax bills go up, 78 percent think that debt and deficit spending are major problems, and a majority want access to private retirement accounts, even if it means a few grannies have to take a tumble off a cliff.

No, seriously. When asked to respond to the question, “Would you favor or oppose allowing younger workers to invest their Social Security taxes in private retirement accounts if doing so required reducing Social Security benefits to current and future seniors,” 51 percent of millennials still said yes, five points more than said no. And when the seniors are left out? Nearly three quarters favor the idea.

But if you think these conservative tendencies alone are going to be enough to make Republicans competitive with this generation, well, as South Park says, you’re gonna have a bad time. And if you’re a social conservative, whether of the Jerry Falwell variety or of the “Faith and Family Left” variety, then sorry Santorum voters, but you’re not in Iowa anymore. Fully 61 percent of young voters favor keeping online porn legal and 57 percent favor making it legal to use marijuana. Slouching towards Gomorrah with our shirts untucked, the lot of us.

And that thing people keep saying about how Republicans can’t win young people if they’re anti-gay? It’s worse than you think. Not only do seven in ten millennials favor legalizing gay marriage, including 54 percent of all Republican millennials, but fully one third of those Republican millennials actually trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to gay issues. That’s right, even when you think you’re preaching to the College Republican choir, one third of the choir is shifting uneasily in their seats wondering if Grandpa went off his meds again.

“But wait!” cry social conservatives. “Sure, young people might be druggie gay-loving perverts, but they’re pro-life, aren’t they?” Well, according to the poll, 61 percent favor keeping abortion at least somewhat legal. Being 20 points behind on an issue isn’t winning. Even Brazil was only down 6 against Germany.

So yeah, social issues have to go, but that’s not all. You’ve got to do more than keep talking about how capitalism will save the young if they just give it time. This generation wants to see results. Literally. When it comes to government spending, they don’t care how they get jobs, so long as something works. If it’s infrastructure spending, fine. If it’s job training programs, cool. And if it’s tax cuts? Well, six in ten of them are fine with those, but they have to actually create job growth. This generation is fed up with waiting for economic opportunity. They want it now, and they don’t care how they get it. If you want to win with them, you need a jobs program that comports with your principles, but that also will work, and you need it yesterday. And if you want to sell them on limited government, here’s a tip: Offer concrete proposals for limiting it. Millennials love them, and they uniformly poll better than empty calls to shrink it.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking — this is a lot to give up. Well, you’re right. It is. But here’s what you get if you do it right: An anti-Obamacare, anti-spending, pro-business, pro-entrepreneurial and meritocratic generation that’s bigger than the Baby Boom generation and whose hearts are already on your side where the economy is concerned, even if their heads need to see the details.

Start with Obamacare. A slim majority of millennials approve of the idea of it. But slightly more than half, 55 percent, also oppose redistributive health care policies that raise costs in order to help the uninsured. But among those who pay for their own insurance? Nearly six in ten oppose this idea. Good luck selling Obamacare, which is fundamentally a redistributive program from the young and insured to the old and uninsured, to a group that hostile. And hey, you know what makes people able to pay for their own insurance? A job.

As for government spending, the vast majority of millennials agree that it’s a problem; they just aren’t sure if it needs to be solved right now. About a third want to wait for the economy to improve to cut spending. This means that functionally, 82 percent of millennials would be willing to do something about spending if they felt economically secure. And hey, you know what makes people feel economically secure? A job.

Now, I’m going to tell you something a little scary: 54 percent of millennials want the government to guarantee a college degree. That’s right. 54 percent. But you know why they favor that kind of expansive government spending? Because most of them are poor. As their income rises, this generation tends to get a lot less compassionate awfully fast. In fact, their support for socialism and government intervention starts dropping off the instant they graduate college.