by Lisa Stickan, Chairman Young Republican National Federation
The term “youth vote” is a popular political buzzword that peppers our airwaves during major election years. As Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, I am often asked these critical questions: “Will Republicans make gains with younger voters?” “Will younger voters always vote Democrat?” And, my personal favorite: “Will the young people even vote?”
It is no secret, given these last two major election cycles, that the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. The “youth vote” does, in fact, matter. It’s high time the GOP take notice and compete for these voters.
In particular, in the past few election cycles, so-called “Millennial” voters (those under 30) have broken the mold and stumped the pundits. Millennial voters turned out in unprecedented numbers in 2008, voting predominantly for President Obama. The cable news pundits predicted that the Millennial voters would surely stay home in 2012. Not so. Our youngest voters were determined to make their mark: it is reported that the under-30 vote in 2012 surpassed the 2008 numbers, with around 49% of these young Americans casting their ballots. Overall, this block comprised around 19% of the total votes cast, up a percent from 2008. Collectively, President Obama captured 60% of the youth vote, compared with Mitt Romney’s 36%, an improvement over John McCain’s numbers.
I remain optimistic that the GOP can make inroads with these voters for elections to come. Many young people still struggle to find work in this Obama economy and look to government to adopt policies to grow jobs. While organizations like Young Republicans and College Republicans aggressively message to these prospective voters, we cannot do it alone. The GOP as a whole needs to be more proactive and engage these voters. The two important strides for the GOP to make in this demographic include better candidate messaging and recognition that our younger generations involve a changing demographic.
Messaging is #1. Younger voters are more apt to vote for a person, not necessarily a party—so a candidate must connect! I firmly believe that candidates (and in the bigger picture, the political party) need to ask for someone’s vote to actually earn it. To do so, we must first own our message and not let Democrats and the media define us to large and unfamiliar segments of voters. I cannot tell you how many young women I had to reassure that Mitt Romney would not make birth control pills illegal.
Candidates must also do a better job of conveying that message to these voters. Young voters are vibrant, active, online, and “plugged in.” They live in the new media and communicate differently than their parents’ generation. The GOP’s message of economic independence and fiscal responsibility will relate to voters who are struggling to launch their post-college careers. But that message does us no good if those voters never hear it. I encountered many voters who were convinced Obama deserved a second term because “four years just isn’t enough time to make any improvements.” While we shake our head at the absurdity of these sentiments, one thing is clear—Obama was messaging to these young voters, with not only the mainstream media, but also social media and well-organized Democrat operatives, and persuaded them to stay the course.
Second to messaging, the GOP needs to recognize new diverse groups of voters, including Hispanics and Asian-Americans, now approaching voting age in great number. Romney made strides with some young voters; he captured 51% of young white voters. Despite his connection with that group, it was clearly not enough. The GOP must as a whole connect with these emerging groups of diverse voters, especially the youngest voters of these groups. This not only brings new faces into the party, but also bridges the gap in the generational divide. Many in these groups share our conservative values and even our views on social issues. This should be explored by party leaders.
Finally, as YRNF Chairman, it is obvious I would think the “youth vote” matters. But as outlined above, any group that comprises 1/5 of the vote has to matter.
The safe campaign strategy of focusing on only “older voters” is not going to bring the win home. In my own experience visiting with Young Republicans (YRs) around the country, I see a growing number of our party’s youngest members heading up campaigns within their communities, and a striking number running for local, state and national offices. I see Young Republicans doing a lot of the “political heavy lifting,” making calls at the phone banks and knocking on doors for candidates. These young activists are some of the strongest members of our party. And these YR leaders, through peer-to-peer messaging, are able to reach a larger audience to express the benefits of voting Republican. Grassroots organizations, like Young Republicans, can lead the way to open new avenues and reinvent the election playbook. Owning, bringing and delivering our message to these voters is our first step… let’s get started.
Stickan has been Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation since 2010
The Young Republicans (YRs) are the oldest political youth organization in the United States. Important to the growth of the Republican Party, the YRs reach out to registered Republicans, 18 to 40 years of age, and provide them with better political knowledge and understanding of the issues of the day. For more information, go to www.yrnf.com