Republicans are urging the party to do a better job engaging with young voters after the GOP saw Generation Z voters cast ballots by large margins for Democrats in the November midterms, making the difference in key congressional and gubernatorial races.
While the party has long struggled with attracting younger voters, the 2022 midterm elections underscored the extent to which those struggles are a liability for it. Now, Republicans are calling on the party to step up its outreach, including by finding more Gen Z surrogates, engaging with young voters on social media platforms and speaking to issues those voters care about.
“When you ignore people’s bread-and-butter concerns and their more cultural concerns, you can’t expect to win their votes. And we’re having a series of close elections, and the Republicans are just throwing away an entire demographic, and it’s costing them elections,” said veteran GOP strategist Keith Naughton.
An analysis by Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) using day-after estimates suggests that voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds in 2022 was at the second highest of the last 30 years for a midterm election. In House races alone, the demographic favored Democratic candidates to Republicans 63 percent to 35 percent, remaining mostly consistent since 2020 but a slight drop from 2018, when the margin was 67 percent to 32 percent.
Overall, more than a quarter of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are estimated to have cast a ballot during the November midterms, according to an analysis of Edison Research’s National Election Poll Survey by CIRCLE, often playing a critical role in battleground races.
David Morgan, a senior at Pennsylvania State University and the political director of the Penn State College Republicans, believes the GOP is facing challenges with young voters because they’re not speaking to social policies and issues.
“Better health care, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, stuff like that … climate change, those issues are huge for Gen Z. And because the party kind of is a little bit slow on the uptake initially with kind of some of these issues … I think it kind of automatically slanted our generation to go more towards Democrat,” he noted.
Other Republicans say the problem lies not only with the substance of their messaging but also with the method of communication.
“We have a tendency to do a lot of things wrong talking to younger voters. One is we don’t go to where they are,” said veteran GOP strategist John Brabender, noting how young voters are increasingly on TikTok.
“Our party says we can’t be on TikTok for privacy and security reasons,” he added. “Well, that’s great, but you better come up with an alternative really quickly, then, because we have a whole generation growing up with that being their number one news source yet we’re not talking to them there.”
CIRCLE’s analysis of AP VoteCast data and election results from other news outlets suggests that Gen Z voters and millennials were pivotal in deciding the most competitive elections. In the Arizona gubernatorial race, CIRCLE found 18- to 29-year-olds offered Democrat Katie Hobbs a net of 60,000 votes at a time when Hobbs was projected to win her race by just a third of that.
And in the Georgia Senate race, CIRCLE’s analysis found that Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) received a net of 116,000 votes from that demographic in the general election. Warnock placed first over Republican Herschel Walker during the November election by about 37,000 votes. The race later went to a runoff, which Warnock won.
“It’s a very secular cohort, and it’s a very progressive cohort on social issues. Very tolerant, firmly believe in LGBTQ rights, firmly believe that gender is not binary, very concerned about climate change … very concerned about gun violence, [which] they see as their generations’ issue, so the issues have really favored the Democrats,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who worked on President Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Lake suggested that voters between the ages of 18 and 29 years old are at odds with former President Trump and his ideology while noting that “they’re not necessarily that happy with the Democrats. They think the Democrats are often not producing, but two-thirds strongly believe in a role for government.”
Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who serves as president for Young America’s Foundation, argues that “liberal indoctrination” — the idea that young voters are not often introduced to multiple schools of thought on issues, including views considered right of center — is at least partly responsible for the party’s challenges.
“Any of the consultant class in Washington who thinks just more clever digital ads or some sort of student coalition is going to make the difference I think don’t realize what they’re up against,” Walker said.
Some Republicans see an opportunity in the latest election results. Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for the conservative Turning Point Action, noted in exit polling published by CNN that 61 percent of those aged 18 to 24 years old voted for Democrats, slightly fewer than the 65 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds who voted for the party.
Meanwhile, 63 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 voted Democrat in 2022, compared to 35 percent who voted for the GOP. That suggests a slight dip for both of those demographics compared to 2018, when 67 percent of that same demographic voted Democratic compared to 32 percent voting for the GOP.
Of course, those figures still underscore the difficulties the GOP faces with young people. And while members see this as an issue that stretches back some time, Republicans say it’s one that requires devoted infrastructure toward tackling that age gap.
“Not trying to throw the RNC [Republican National Committee] under the bus here, but there’s so much focus on fundraising I think within the Republican Party because we do not effectively raise and we do not effectively spend that there is an unhealthy imbalance on one specific type of voter and that those are the people who meet that cross section of the ones that we need to turn out and also the ones that have money to do it,” said Tyler Bowyer, the chief operating officer of Turning Point Action who also serves as an RNC National Committeeman in Arizona.
He explained that the GOP has a “wide ocean gap” between baby boomers and the millennial/Gen Z camp.
“You have the old guard trying to raise money for baby boomers, and you have millennial/Gen Z, which is like this massive bucket, now the biggest part of the electorate that we have to focus on, and we don’t have enough people, we don’t have enough money in that group to make it worth it to the old guard. And we don’t have enough know-how and experience in how to message those people,” Bowyer, who is a millennial, continued.
“So it’s an opportunity for us moving forward, but it’s gonna take some real innovative leadership to look at this and say, ‘Hey, we need to do more work in the influencer space, and we need to do more work in the social media space. We need to do more work in how we message and who’s delivering the message,’ ” he said.