Youth and Technology Deficit

Article highlights: Republicans need to focus on issues that attract younger voters, and they need a more dynamic web presence to be successful in 2012.

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project 55% of adults used the Internet as their goto source for campaign & candidate information. Additionally the study found that by a 2-to-1 ratio, Obama’s online supporters were more engaged than those of the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. Are there understandable reasons for this? Is this something we, as conservatives, can change? the answer to both of these questions is yes.

First, let’s discuss the reasons. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, if you are not liberal when you are young you have no heart; if you are not conservative in middle age you have no head. The under 40 crowd was for Obama this past cycle and Internet use is much stronger among the younger population. Therefore it makes perfect sense that Obama would have a much stronger following online. Aside from the basic demographics, the McCain team simply did not run a strong Internet campagin- it was a 2004 interface trying to make it in 2008.

While there are understandable reasons why liberals owned the net in 2008, there is every reason to think conservatives can catch up. We have to keep in mind it was only as far back as 2004 when the Republicans were the party of the Internet. So, what should we do? First and foremost the conservative message needs to start targeting the younger crowd, and there are ways to do this without abandoning any core conservative principles. It is a simple matter of focus. Hard core social issues work to the traditional base of the party, but they often turn off younger voters who are more libertarian in their social views. However, the under 40 crowd cares a lot about the environment and their own futures in a rapidly evolving economy. These are both areas that are inherently in the conservatives’ ballpark. What is more conservative than environmental conservation and the growing of a strong domestic economy? Therefore a more vocal and public focus on these issues would attract younger adults who would vote for a strong pro-environment, pro-economy message, even if they might not agree with every social policy a traditional Republican would support.

If conservatives could push a truly revolutionary energy policy, one that was market driven, but also forward looking, they could speak directly to this demographic. We don’t have to look far for a blueprint, the Pickens Plan or some variant of it would work well.

There are several pillars to the Pickens Plan:

  • Create millions of new jobs by building out the capacity to generate up to 22 percent of our electricity from wind. And adding to that with additional solar capacity;
  • Building a 21st century backbone electrical grid;
  • Providing incentives for homeowners and the owners of commercial buildings to upgrade their insulation and other energy saving options; and
  • Using America’s natural gas to replace imported oil as a transportation fuel.

Aside from creating policy initiatives that would appeal to younger voters the Republican Party also needs to make a more concerted effort to seek out and recruit those on the Internet frontier. By the time 2012 rolls around Twitter will be today’s MySpace- we need people who recognize that and are on the lookout for the newest tools available.

In the next election cycle we can assume an even greater percentage of voters will rely on the web for their news and political engagement. If conservative in general, and the Republican Party in particular, want to see a large portion of that traffic directed towards their message, they need two things: a stronger appeal to youth voters who drive the Internet, and a more dynamic and forward-thinking team devoted to developing a real online presence to rival what we know will be a large Obama rollout.

Cross posted at the Rockefeller Republican

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