By MARSHA MERCER
Last month, I asked readers how the GOP could freshen its appeal to young voters and avoid another presidential election drubbing. Today we’ll hear their advice.
“Change. Develop and implement policies that benefit young voters. Reduce student loan costs and or the need for student loans,” wrote David Browning of North Chesterfield, Va., in a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Browning had other good ideas but let’s stop at student loans. Congress has been stymied trying to roll back interest rate hikes on new Stafford student loans, which doubled this month to 6.8 percent. This week, there were signs of progress. Senators of both parties agreed Wednesday on a deal to lower rates temporarily, and the White House indicated President Obama would go along. Look for action before the August recess.
A reader named Robert who described himself as an “old time, left out Republican” emailed me to say that Republicans have “forgotten their roots: Lincoln. Roosevelt. Eisenhower, and the good side of Nixon…the Republicans need to be born again.”
He advised: “Tune out the radio talking heads and turn off Fox TV. Young voters are interested in jobs, education and the environment. They believe in science. They have gone to school with other races and with immigrants. They know gays and lesbians…Young people cannot relate to the racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant attitude of many of the GOP leaders.”
There’s a lot to think about in that one paragraph, but immigration tops the list for a successful Republican future.
The Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” report released earlier this year said Republicans must “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform” if they’re to have any hope of attracting minority voters. Young voters also overwhelmingly favor changes in immigration policy.
Among 18- to 29-year-old voters, 68 percent say illegal immigrants should be given a chance for legal status and only 28 percent favor deportation, the Pew Research Center reported after analyzing exit polls from the 2012 election.
Voters under 30 are the most ethnically and racially diverse of any age group, says Pew. The share of young voters who are white has declined 16 percent since 2000. Back then, 74 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 identified themselves as white. By 2012, whites were 58 percent of the voters under 30.
Eighteen percent of voters under 30 said they were Hispanic, 17 percent African American and 7 percent mixed race.
So, while some analysts say the GOP hasn’t tapped out on white voters and could still win elections by attracting more whites, a single-race strategy is more than a bad idea. It’s also likely a short-term one.
Ethnic diversity is as American as tacos, but House Republicans have stalled efforts to pass immigration reform -- comprehensive or piecemeal. Supporters of reform are talking about a major push to sway House members during the August recess, Aug. 5 to Sept. 9. If they’re successful, watch for votes in September.
What besides a change in policy might Republicans do to attract young voters? A reader named Mary proposed a marketing campaign to rebrand the party: train candidates in the art of public speaking and language, divide the “market” into special interest groups and appeal to each group with buzz words, and build relationships with public figures.
That sounds promising, except that the rising young stars in the GOP – Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, 43; Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, both 42, and Rand Paul, 50 – appeal to right-wing believers, not to a new target audience.
Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., 36, has wowed conservatives by condemning a path to citizenship and any compromise on immigration. Cotton has “the poise of Bill Clinton but the politics of Rush Limbaugh,” Robert Costa wrote in National Review Online.
Democrats like to say the new breed of Republicans has young faces and old ideas. The GOP may need to be born again politically but change will be a tough sell to the Republican base, especially if change smells like retreat. Here’s one more reader’s advice:
Republicans should simply “cite facts, logic and history” to young voters, the man wrote, adding, “And for God’s sake don’t apologize – for ANYTHING!”
© 2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.