For better or worse, that is exactly how many of the leading voices in Republican TV and Radio feel about the current generation of young adults – generation stupid. The terms “arrogant,” “entitled,” “fragile,” “lazy,” and “narcissistic” have been the hallmarks of GOP media idea-makers’ descriptions of young adults. Once election season ends, these same pundits are quick to point out that young voters overwhelmingly voted Democrat; however, they have yet to consider the potential that their persistent ridicule may not be the most effective strategy for building generational good will. Conservatives have won large shares of the youth vote as recently as the 2000 presidential elections, so how can the Republicans rebuild their brand and re-energize young supporters?
The College Republican National Committee (CRNC) recently released a report detailing Republicans’ current standing with young voters and offering suggestions for future strategies. Anyone who followed the 2012 campaign season likely noticed that the GOP had a difficult time connecting with younger voters, both on a presidential level and often on state levels as well. If the GOP hopes, at any point in the future, to win a national election, the party’s stance towards this voting bloc will need to be rethought.
Over 80 million Americans, a generation colloquially referred to as ‘millennials,’ are about to reach, or have recently reached, voting age. This group, which votes at higher rates than have been seen in decades, has been categorically dismissed by many leading Republican voices. The decision to do so – likely a by-product of efforts to pander towards the hyper-conservative (and rapidly aging) religious right – was a major misstep, and one that will likely continue to have catastrophic consequences in the near-term.
Hope is not lost, however, as the CRNC report is quick to point out. Millennials are often derided for being narcissistic, immature, and lazy. Unsurprisingly, all of these are characterizations they resent. When asked which descriptors they aspired to, the top four answers were intelligent, caring, hardworking, and responsible.
From Page 71, CRNC Report
These values should make the GOP an easy sell; after all, don’t core party values include fiscal responsibility, reward for hard work, and the belief that success is earned by those with the smarts and dedication to grab it? You may have noticed that I left out ‘caring,’ a value that I know the party holds but will be a tough sell to a generation that sees the GOP as “closed-minded, racist, [and] rigid” (though, as the report also notes, caring doesn’t necessarily mean handouts, it can also mean fostering an economic climate that benefits those working their way to the top as opposed to focusing solely on those who have already reached it).
Reception of the CRNC report has been mixed at best. CRNC Chairwoman Alex Smith and report author Kristen Soltis had the dubious honor of appearing on a recent episode of ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’ During the course of the interview, O’Reilly repeatedly interrupted Smith and Soltis and dismissed their suggestions. Adding insult to injury, he also used their findings to make the case that millennials are “immature,” and “a bunch of kids who don’t know anything,” and that the only way to reach them was to “use words they understand.” The interview makes it clear that, at least in O’Reilly’s opinion, reaching out to younger voters is a lost cause because the Republican message is simply too mature for millennials to understand.
Normally tirades like O’Reilly’s can be easily drown out in the cacophony that is modern media. However, it is worth noting that according to the very voters he so quickly demeans, O’Reilly is seen as the figurehead of the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, young voters were quick to point to Barak Obama as the party leader – a man who, despite his many missteps, has yet to openly mock a major group of potential supporters.
The GOP has frequently been able to capitalize on the messes left by two-term Democrats – Eisenhower after Truman, Nixon after Johnson, Reagan after Carter, George W. Bush after Clinton. Obama’s second term has thus far presented much of the same opportunity. His administration has become mired in scandal, and some of it has even spilled over to Hillary Clinton – a Democratic front-runner for 2016. Republicans stand to make significant gains on the national stage, perhaps even the presidency, but these efforts would be greatly aided by spending significantly more time connecting with young voters.
The full CRNC report can be found here