The Youth Vote

President Obama did a phenomenal job of getting out the youth vote in 2008.  Many conservatives and even some liberals were thinking that a repeat performance was next to impossible; however, he brought back the same young people as 2008 and added quite a few more.  In the 2012 election, people aged 18-29 increased their total of the electorate and went for President Obama 67%-30% nationally.

The combined total of electoral votes in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania is 80 votes; Governor Romney’s final total nationwide was 206.  If he had won those four states, he would have won the election.  Contrary to popular belief, however, he didn’t lose them because “all the people in the state made a decisive choice.”  The largest reason he lost those states was the youth vote.

Young people voted in these four states 63%-35% for President Obama.  Romney handily won the 45+ crowd in all of these states.  Simply splitting the youth vote rather than getting blown out of the water could have made Mitt Romney the President-Elect of the United States.

The question now turns to our marketing of the conservative message.  We have four years to fix this enormous disconnect with young people around the country— it’s crunch-time.

Contrary to what some believe, I reject the notion that we must change the message of conservatism if we hope to appeal to the next generation.  Our message is timeless; it was the motivation behind our founders’ persistent dedication to maintaining this new nation and should remain ours today.  If we change our message every four years when a new generation of young people appears, we’ll appear flimsy, hypocritical, and indecisive— and rightly so.

I completely agree with what I’ve heard since the election concerning the youth vote.  We need a culture change; our education system is becoming more and more infiltrated by left-wing teachers who want to implant that mindset into their students at a young age.  We need to fix our education system, not only for political reasons but for student reasons— the United States lags far behind when it comes to math and science and, if we don’t fix that soon, we’ll be left in the dust as other countries take the lead.  We can’t afford for that to happen.

I also believe that conservatives need to be more receptive to Hollywood; not in the sense that we have to agree with their actions and with what comes out of it, but in the sense that we must not alienate the rare conservative actors that do exist.  We should be using those actors to reach out to young people.  The truth is that a college student is likely to be much more open to their favorite movie star than they are to an “old white guy.”  Outreach does not equal pandering– there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to the college crowd in ways that they’ll best receive our message.

Another huge issue:  When kids like that hear us talking about the tax code and the national debt, then turn around and hear the Democrats talking about issues such as this, which side do you think they’re going to be more attracted to?  I don’t think we should stop talking about the tax code and national debt, but we need to take some time to debunk the false picture the Left has painted of conservatives.  An apathetic young person today would watch the news and walk away believing that Republicans want to take women back to the Stone Age.  We’re letting liberals get away with this narrative.  We need to get out and personally talk to these young people and answer their questions; don’t let them believe these lies any longer.  Freedom is appealing to everyone, regardless of age– we’ve just been presenting it in the wrong way.

Before I continue I want to say that Governor Romney did a fantastic job as our candidate; with that said, the biggest issue I feel we had with young people in this election was in what we were talking about and how we were talking about it.  We were talking about this while Democrats were talking about this.  Here’s why I say that:  While I absolutely, positively agree with this Romney-Ryan ad, we produced many just like it and failed to point any of them toward young people.  We could have conveyed the same message but pointed some of these ads at the youth:  “Fiscal sanity is important, and here’s how it affects your future,” or, “Equality for women won’t even be a consideration if our debt explodes and bankrupts us.”  We could have addressed the same critical issues while at the same time reaching out to young people.  President Obama often spoke directly to young people:  “This is your election,” and “You’re the ones who will choose our next President,” and “You hold your future in your hands.”  I never once heard those things from Governor Romney or any of his surrogates.

I’m proud to be a conservative and I don’t want to see our message tampered with because of changing demographics.  I believe that we need to examine our approach and word choice as much as we do our marketing.  When President Obama was on the campaign trail discussing what he has “accomplished for middle-class families” and, specifically, “young people and their college tuition,” we countered by directly (and correctly) challenging each of his claims.  However, young people who already had an uneasy feeling about the Governor most likely viewed this as “bullying” the President— “All Obama’s done is try to help us, and Mitt Romney is just mad because he wasn’t the one who did these things.”  I attend a public college.  I see these kids very often and hear their conversations.  That is exactly what I heard for months before the election.

We were absolutely correct when we challenged the President’s record; it is dismal at best and destructively evil for this country at worst.  However, young people who voted for the President in 2008 and had decided to do so again in 2012 were not going to believe what we were saying about his record.  They just knew he was the “cool, celebrity President” and wanted to re-elect him.  What we should have done to reach out to young people is show them the positives of liberty, capitalism, and conservatism rather than simply show them the evils of oppression, socialism, and liberalism.  Those two messages— the positives of one and negatives of another— go hand in hand; and we needed to present a larger contrast between the two ideologies.  Between the President’s massive control on the youth vote and the mainstream media’s infatuation with him, we were painted as bullies who were victimizing all the good the President has tried to do because we’re “greedy Republicans who are power-obsessed.”  They can’t portray us that way if we’re conveying the positives of a truly free country.  Look at these two phrases:

“The President has done a terrible job in the last four years.  Everything he has done to try to help the middle-class has failed.  My plan will get people back to work, make us energy independent, and increase America’s standing in the world.”

“Liberty is the only way you can achieve your dreams.  You can’t achieve those dreams under policies that include spreading your success around and demonizing you for making money— we want you to keep as much of your money as possible.  Capitalism is the best way for you to have a steady job that you love and excel at.  Freedom gives you the opportunity to pursue your dreams.”

Look at the wording of both phrases.  The root of both messages is the same— yet which sounds more appealing to young people?  The Republican Party needs to take on a more optimistic tone regarding the policies and ideas we represent rather than solely showing a negative attitude towards the opinions of the other side.  If we are optimistic about our own ideas, we won’t have to worry about being so negative about the other side’s.

It’s obvious that young people gravitate toward more optimistic messages— “hope and change” paraded them out to the polls in numbers we had never seen before.  The GOP needs to excite young people about conservatism rather than simply attempt to disgust them with liberalism.  There has to be a balance of presenting our ideas and attacking the opposite.  The Left attacks conservatism viciously because they can get away with it.  The GOP can’t get away with it; we have to be the upbeat, positive, this-is-how-conservatism-benefits-you party if we want to win young people over.  This isn’t pandering— this is reaching out to young people in the ways they’ll respond to best.  We can’t afford to continue letting the Left to buy young people’s votes with false promises and hypocritical hope.