The party leadership’s postelection “autopsy” offered a superficial take on its challenge with young voters: It’s just social issues, and particularly Republican opposition to same-sex marriage, that have turned them off. The College Republican National Committee has just released a detailed report on young voters that goes considerably beyond this conventional wisdom.
It’s true that most polls find strong support for same-sex marriage among young people. The report, mainly written by Winston Group pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, tries to gauge how important the issue is in driving their votes. It finds that 26 percent of young voters favor same-sex marriage and wouldn’t vote for a candidate who opposes it even if they agreed with that candidate on most other issues. Some of those voters, maybe most of them, must lean toward the Democrats on issues other than same-sex marriage. So Republicans are losing some young voters on this issue, but it may not be central to the party’s troubles.
They are deeply concerned, on the other hand, about economic issues. And Republicans have a lot of work to do on them. A majority of young voters think the party’s economic policies played a big role in the recession. They don’t follow Republican politicians in thinking that higher taxes on the rich are higher taxes on small business. Although they tend to agree with Republicans about the future of entitlement programs for the elderly, they are much more worried about the here-and-now. (The report cites a survey showing 20 percent of young people had delayed marriage because of the economy.) They consider student-loan debt a major obstacle to their goals.
And they give President Barack Obama credit for trying to help the economy, reduce their debt burden, and fix health care. Among those young voters who approve of Obama’s job performance, “trying” was the No. 1 word they used about him — as in, he has been trying to improve things.
They think that public spending should be cut and that government is too big. Fighting big government is, however, a much lower priority for them than expanding the economy, reforming the safety net and controlling the national debt.
I think the biggest issue the GOP has with youth (and women and minorities) is their image. We're constantly talking AT people rather than talking with them. They get that we're the party of smaller government, personal responsibility and lower taxes. But they don't think our message applies to them. We have to do damage control. We have to TRY. We have to the change the image that the GOP (and conservatives) only want to improve the economy for people like them.