There’s no question the GOP has a youth problem.
Since President Obama’s re-election last November, Republicans have been scratching their heads, wondering why, despite double-digit youth unemployment, historically high student loan debt and an abysmal job market, young people still came out in droves for Obama.
But the GOP’s youth problem predates Barack Obama. In 2004, President Bush lost the youth vote to the less-than-exciting John Kerry, 54-45 percent.
In 2008, President Obama won the youth vote by nearly double. Then, despite the dire economic state of the nation, Millennials still voted to re-elect Obama 67- 30 percent in 2012.
The Republican National Committee did some serious introspection after 2012, putting out its lengthy post-mortem, the Growth and Opportunity Project. The RNC’s college counterpart, the CRNC, produced a brutally honest assessment as well, focused solely on the youth vote.
As the CRNC report candidly revealed, young people associated the GOP with the phrases, “closed-minded, racist, rigid, and old-fashioned.”
Many within the party are asking themselves how the GOP will ever reverse the spiraling millennial voter trend, while others continue to chalk it up to a simple messaging problem — a dangerous conclusion.
To avoid the areas where young people seriously disagree, some young Republican groups have decided to focus all their messaging on fiscal policy.
The problem is, just saying you aren’t going to talk about issues where your party platform may be unpopular with your target audience (drug policy, foreign policy, civil liberties, DOMA, and the list goes on…), is hiding from the problem. It also isn’t winning lifelong voters to your side. All it’s doing is offering a “this or that” option and asking them to weigh which party they disagree with less.
Young people want to identify with a political party that they don’t feel like they constantly have to apologize for. Millenials want a party whose values and principles they can identify with, not one that gets just enough things right.
Young people, it turns out, are extremely distrustful of government. Despite popular narratives, polling also reveals that millennials do care about civil liberties. For example, millennials had the highest level of disapproval over the NSA’s phone surveillance program of any age group, according to a Pew/Washington Post poll.
Sen. Rand Paul penned an op-ed back in March that summed up what would attract young voters to the GOP.
“I believe a Republican Party that is more tolerant and dedicated to keeping the government out of people’s lives as much as possible would be more appealing to the rising generation,” Sen. Paul wrote.
He hit the nail on the head. Young people aren’t interested in being told how to live their lives or in telling others how they ought to live theirs. Despite the common narrative, the 18-29-year-olds in America aren’t predisposed to lean radically left. In fact, a GOP that returns to the principles of the Constitution will actually reflect the desires of young people better.
Ominous demographic trends aside, there is some good news for the Republican Party — there is a thriving network of right-leaning activists, nonprofits they could potentially tap into: the liberty movement, and the GOP only stands to benefit by embracing it.
You may be wondering what differentiates the liberty movement from the traditional Republican Party.
The answer is fairly simple, it’s a movement that isn’t party-based; it’s based on principle. It’s an ideologically consistent movement built on the principles of individual liberty, personal responsibility, small government, and free enterprise.
Let’s not forget that liberty-hero Ron Paul was the sole Republican candidate who had a youth coalition in the primary that would have been strong enough to be game changing in the general election.
Despite being nearly an octogenarian, Paul managed to rally a sizeable youth following. That following has evolved into a movement. Since his departure from Congress, other pro-liberty candidates have taken up the mantle, including his son, Sen. Rand Paul, Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and Reps. Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, to name a few.
Refusing to talk about tough issues isn’t a strategy for winning youth voters. While we are all doing introspection over the party’s future, the first question asked should be: When did we stop being the party of liberty?