Narrowing the Millennial Gap

Young Conservatives need a better publicist, or should I say a better blogger? For far too long the political parties have taken us for granted. Most assume we won’t vote, and even if we did, we’re sure to be Democrats. Republicans seemed content to win older demographics and hope that we would see the red-tinged light as we aged.

After years of being the red-headed step child of politics 2008 was our coming out party. Unfortunately, Republicans had very little to celebrate. The first to truly capture the importance of Twitter, Facebook, and iPhones, the Obama campaign created an excitement amongst Millennials. Again, the Republican Party seemed willing to play the waiting game, confident they would win young adults’ hearts and minds as they grew older.

After a weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference it was clear Republicans have seen the light on the importance of young adults. As one regular CPAC attendee said,

“I’ve been coming to these for years. This used to be a convention of blue hairs; now it has youthful energy.”

But CPAC is merely the latest symptom of a viral growth in youth support for the conservative movement. Just two years ago, at the height of Obama’s popularity, the Democratic advantage in party affiliation among young voters reached 62% to 30%. This 32% margin was reflective of Obama margin of victory in the 2008 presidential election in which he defeated John McCain amongst young adults by a whopping 68% to 30% margin.

But the tides are turning. A recent Pew Research study found that,

“The “Millennial Generation” of young voters played a big role in the resurgence of the Democratic Party in the 2006 and 2008 elections, but their attachment to the Democratic Party weakened markedly over the course of 2009.”

Beyond the short term benefit of picking up votes in the crucial 2010 midterm elections, the shift represents the ability for Republicans to grow the next generation of conservatives. Contrary to the “wait till their older” approach, studies show that a person’s party identification, once formed, remains remarkably stable. As the influential study “The American Voter” found,

“Persons who identify with one of the parties typically have held the same partisan tie for all or most of their adults lives.”

This surprising truth bears out in the course of history. For instance as political scientist Norman Orstein writes,

“All the research done on the dramatic Democratic realignment of the 1930s shows that the key was young voters, coming of age as the Depression hit, influenced deeply by the contrast between Hoover and Roosevelt . . . those voters became lifelong Democrats.”

A similar trend happened in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan captured the hearts of young adults with a patriotic excitement that extolled American exceptionalism. Those same voters played an enormous part in the Republican Revolution of 1994 and remain the Republican party’s strongest age cohort.

The stability of young voter’s ideology combined with Obama’s landslide victory should have spelled long term trouble for the Republican brand. But we’ve bounced back. As the Pew Research study shows,

29 percent of Millennials describe themselves as liberals, 28 percent say they are conservatives and 40 percent identify themselves as moderates.

This snapshot ignores the momentum that is definitely on the side of conservatives. By focusing on issues that resonate with younger adults – small government and lower spending – Republicans have a chance to create a base of support for years to come. The enthusiasm is there. Spending a day walking the halls of CPAC would tell you that. More importantly, walking the halls of a college campus would tell you that. College Republicans have seen an enormous uptick and support. As a College Republican leader told me this past week, “Barack Obama has been the best thing for recruitment we’ve seen.” Beyond being a divisive figure, Obama has engaged young people in a way other presidents haven’t. But political engagement is only half the equation and College Republicans have cultivated that newfound interest into conservative momentum. We are not only the voice of young conservatives…we are future of the party.

– Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee. Read more at www.collegerepublicans.org