Friday, June 7, 2013

How can GOP win young voters? June 6, 2013 column


After back-to-back presidential defeats, the Republican Party is obsessed with reinventing itself. Or, more accurately, it’s obsessed with talking about reinventing itself.

This is like someone who, having gained 25 pounds, debates the virtues of various diets while lying on the couch, eating junk food. It’s a first step, but a tiny one.
Poor Bob Dole had the temerity to say that this isn’t his Republican party. Nearly 90, the former senator and Republican presidential nominee said last month that he doubted whether he, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan could even be nominated for president by the current party.

“I think they ought to put a sign on the (Republican National) Committee doors that says ‘Closed for Repairs,’” and spend the next six months coming up with a positive agenda, Dole said on Fox News Sunday.

Conservatives pounced, calling Dole old, irrelevant and worse. Eventually, though, status-quo Republicans may be forced to hear the wake-up calls. Yes, plural.
 In March, a Republican task force commissioned by Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus warned in its “Growth and Opportunity Project” report that the party has marginalized itself and risks future presidential losses unless it makes changes.  Among the problems is age. 

“Young people are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents…When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us,” the report said.

Reagan may be a beloved GOP icon, but no one under the age of 51 was old enough to vote for him when he first ran for president, the report noted, adding, “Our party knows how to appeal to older voters, but we have lost our way with younger ones.” 

It’s even worse than that.

When voters under 30 were asked what words they associate with “Republican Party,” they responded: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.

And the Democratic Party? Soft, said some, but most picked tolerant, diverse and open-minded.

These are findings from a new report by the College Republican National Committee. The committee analyzed voter polls and conducted its own focus groups and survey of voters under 30 for “Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation.” The report calls on Republicans to turn the GOP brand around, update their tech presence and rethink their policies.

Young people have been voting Democratic for president since 1992, so long that it may seem the natural order. President Barack Obama won 5 million more votes of people under 30 than Mitt Romney did last year, and that was enough to ensure Obama’s victory, despite Romney’s winning 2 million more votes of people over 30.
It wasn’t always this way. In 1972, the first presidential election when 18-year-olds could vote, 52 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots for Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan won 59 percent of young voters in 1984, and George W. Bush lost young voters by just 2 points in 2000 – while losing seniors 65 and more than 4 points.

Democrats should not enjoy the Republicans’ dilemma too much.  It’s not that young people love Democrats, the college Republicans report. It’s that young people hate Republicans more.

At the start of their survey, the College Republicans’ researchers asked young voters to complete two non-political sentences: “I hope people see me as…” And “I hope people never see me as…” They were given a long list of attributes.This was before any mention of politics, and the idea was to get a sense of what the young people valued. 

Interestingly, the most common answer to “I hope people see me as…” was intelligent, followed by caring and hardworking. Way down the list were creative, unique, adventurous and cool.

And “I hope people never see me as…” stupid. Lazy and incompetent were close behind.  Farther down were closed-minded, negative and unhelpful.  

“For the GOP, being thought of as closed-minded is hardly a good thing. But if the GOP is thought of as the “stupid party,” it may as well be the kiss of death,” the report said.

Cue the comments last year by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was right on target when he said Republicans have to stop being “the stupid party.”

But how? What can Republicans do to win back the youth vote in presidential elections? I’d love to hear your ideas.

© 2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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