It will take a lot more than Facebook and Kid Rock to get young people on the Republican bandwagon.
In the months since the 2012 presidential election, Republicans have acknowledged they have their work cut out for them in winning millennials—the generational tag given to those born between 1980 and 2000. On Monday, the College Republican National Committee unveiled a data-heavy, 95-page report that examines how (and why) Republicans can make inroads with young voters.
Among voters under 30—who made up 19 percent of all voters in the November 2012 general election—President Barack Obama received 5 million more votes than Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Despite the gap, the CRNC believes there are ways to bring young people back into the GOP fold.
"[T]he Republican Party has won the youth vote before and absolutely can win it again," the report said, pointing to Ronald Reagan winning 59 percent of the youth vote in 1984 and substantial support from young voters for Georgw W. Bush in 2000. "But this will not occur without significant work to repair the damage done to the Republican brand among this age group over the last decade."
The analysis, co-authored by CRNC principals Alex Schriver and Michael Antonopoulos and polling from the Winston Group, emphasized three areas where Republicans must focus: technology, policy and branding. Much of the data in the report is based on focus groups conducted in California, Ohio and Florida in January and polls of registered voters age 18-29 conducted in the spring.
The new report is part of a wider Republican effort since last year's presidential election to find solutions that can help the party win in the future. In March, the Republican National Committee unveiled its "Growth and Opportunity Project" report, the product of intense polling and accounting of where the GOP went wrong in 2012 and what it can do better in upcoming contests.
Here are seven pieces of advice for how Republicans can better reach young people.
1. Winning young people and minority voters goes hand in hand
The CRNC report says that the challenges Republicans face with the youth vote and the minority vote are "inseparable." As the younger population grows more diverse, the GOP's lack of support among the age group will only grow worse.
"It could be said that the GOP’s young voter problem is as much about failing to gain support from the African American and Latino communities as anything else," the authors write. "With non-white voters making up 42% of voters under the age of 30, the issue of party diversity and the party’s success with the youth vote are absolutely inseparable."
The key, the authors conclude, is to tie messages of "economic opportunity and social mobility" to as many issues as possible.
2. Republicans who oppose gay marriage need to be careful how they discuss it—if at all
"[T]he conventional wisdom is right," the study's authors write in a section on how Republicans should approach marriage policy for gay and lesbian couples. "Young people are unlikely to view homosexuality as morally wrong, and they lean toward legal recognition of same-sex relationships."
The group's survey found that 44 percent of young voters support gay marriage and 26 percent say it should be left up to the states to decide. Thirty percent of responders said marriage should be between a man and a woman.
After conducting the focus groups, the authors concluded that it is "unmistakable" that "gay marriage was a reason many of these young voters disliked the GOP."
With the culture shifting away from the party's policies, here's what they recommend:
The best course of action for the party may be to promote the diversity of opinion on the issue within its ranks. (After all, for quite some time, former vice president Dick Cheney was to the left of President Obama on same-sex marriage) and to focus on acceptance and support for gay people as separate from the definition of marriage. Where the Republican Party will run into the most trouble over this issue is when it is not winning on any of the more prominent issues, either – the economy and spending. If a candidate is compelling enough on economic opportunity and spending, they may well be able to overcome a difference of opinion with young voters on same-sex marriage.
The authors conclude: "On the 'open-minded' issue, yes, we will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table. In the short term, the party ought to promote the diversity of thought within its ranks and make clear that we welcome healthy debate on the policy topic at hand. We should also strongly oppose the use of anti-gay rhetoric."
3. Republicans should focus more on a positive message and move away from being 'The Party of No'
A social media analysis in the report found that "positive" messages are often shared more on social media platforms. Adopting and spreading proactive ideas—as opposed to just challenging and nay-saying the opposition—will help spread the Republican message on mediums like Facebook and Twitter, the report found.
The tactic isn't just for getting "likes" and "shares." It's also a fundamental messaging strategy that Republicans need to use to convince young voters that Republicans have an agenda that supports them.
"Young voters simply felt the GOP had nothing to offer, and therefore said they trusted the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party on every issue tested," the report authors write.
4. The debate over Obamacare is a good example of how Republicans can improve positive messaging
The report authors recommend ways Republicans can discuss the federal health care law while it is being implemented over the next two years:
As Obamacare is implemented and headlines continue to tell the tale of increasing costs and new problems with the health care system, it will be important for Republicans to outline a vision for how they would build a better system that does contain costs and improve quality. For the moment, the advantage that Obama has on the issue is largely due to the fact that he attempted a reform plan at all.
5. Candidates must be in touch with issues young people care about, including pop culture
You don't have to be "young" to carry a message that speaks to young people. Just look at Ron Paul! But you do have to be able to speak using terms that resonate with a younger generation. The report found that even though elected Republican leaders are generally younger than Democrats, millennials still think of Republicans as old. Perhaps it is because Democrats do a better job of speaking the language of young people.
From the report:
[I]t helps to be somewhat in touch with pop culture. Some 30% of respondents said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who can talk comfortably about music, movies, and sports, while only 21% said that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who is under the age of 40. Young voters are far more concerned about finding candidates who understand what they are going through and have solutions to address the problems they are facing; whether that comes from a 60-year-old or a 30-year-old is not quite as important. (After the 2010 elections, House Republicans’ average age fell to under 55, while the average age of a Democratic member of the House rose to over 60. This did not stop “old” from being mentioned in almost every focus group as an attribute associated with the GOP.) However, youth and knowledge of pop culture may not even necessarily be a boost.
6. Advertise in mediums used by young people
Candidates should think outside the realms of traditional campaign strategies. They should bring their message to the places where young people gather, including popular television shows and online:
We don’t expect candidates to throw back shots with college kids, but it wouldn’t hurt to have them target ads at the people who watch re-runs of Family Guy. Young people do not get their information the way voters used to. They carry smartphones in their pockets and purses that allow them to connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere, and that give them instant access to any piece of information they may want to know. There are countless ways they can watch the latest episode of their favorite TV show, and the screens where they’re focusing their eyes all day are more and more likely to be portable. To win young voters, the Republican Party and its candidates must embrace this reality.
7. Show young voters what you can offer
The authors sum it all up pretty well here:
We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it, but won’t offer a hand to help you get there. This has to change in order to have a shot with young voters.
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- President Barack Obama
- Republican National Committee