Fixing the Republican’s Youth Problem

When it comes to winning over young Americans, actions speak louder than words.

At first glance, the 95-page report on youth outreach released Monday by the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) looked great. The straight-talking study made sensible recommendations to solve the Republican youth problem—if you want to understand a younger audience, go talk to them on their own turf. Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, there’s a little more to it than that. When you talk to young voters, you better mean what you tell them.

The Republican Party has a youth problem—only half of all eligible voters, ages 18 to 29, participated in the 2012 presidential election. Of those, 67 percent supported President Obama. But once again, the Monday morning quarterbacks have analyzed everything surrounding the Party’s “policy agenda,” except the policy agenda itself. 

Fixing the Republican sales pitch for small-government ideas is only one part of the equation. With the millennial generation, talk is cheap. Authenticity and action speak louder than words, and young Americans are paying attention.

These days, social networks and smartphones keep politicians on their toes. This era of American politics is increasingly defined by transparency across government. Once-nameless bureaucrats have been named. Beltway insiders and their cronies in Congress are revealed. Political lip-service is chronicled.

Politically active young Americans were alarmed when the Republican establishment changed the rules at the Party’s Convention to marginalize the influence of grassroots activists. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a pre-determined voice vote to make sure those straying from the establishment’s political agenda were kept in their place. Fortunately, tech-savvy activists were able to capture images of the teleprompter, and covered the story from the Convention floor in real-time.

Millennials also took notice when 85 House and 39 Senate Republicans voted to raise taxes on 77 percent of Americans while extending a bunch of corporate welfare tax credits in a sneaky midnight vote on New Year’s Eve. They noticed when 199 House and 12 Senate Republicans voted to increase the debt ceiling for three months without demanding anything in return.

You can’t blame young Americans for doubting the GOP’s sincerity. After a campaign season spent preaching “fidelity to conservative principles,” young Americans watched 214 House and 20 Senate Republicans vote to pass a “clean” extension of unsustainable federal spending. That same month, the Republican National Committee released a post-election “autopsy” report claiming to be the party of small-government solutions.

Conservatives and libertarian online forums—largely populated by young people—exploded when 21 Republican Senators voted to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, an unconstitutional Internet sales tax that violates all precedents of taxation by allowing states to tax Internet sales across state borders, regardless of a business’s physical location.

The Republican political establishment doesn’t have a failure to communicate—young Americans just know a phony when they see one.

If the Republican Party wants to rehabilitate its image with younger voters who believe in individual liberty and limited government, they have stop making deals with liberal Democrats to accomplish the exact opposite while expecting nobody to notice.

Republican Party leadership should take a page from the playbook of fiscal conservatives who are getting it right. There is a growing level of youthful enthusiasm surrounding pro-freedom voters in the House, including Rep. Thomas Massie (KY-4) who reads every piece of legislation he votes on cover to cover, and Rep. Justin Amash (MI-3), who dares to explain every single vote to his constituents on Facebook.

Grassroots enthusiasm surrounding authentic fiscal conservatives has fundamentally shifted the power balance in the Senate as well, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now shares the driver’s seat with junior Senators Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX).  

The real task for Republicans this year is to build a voting record that backs up their rhetoric. Young Republicans, fiscal conservatives, “small-l” libertarians, and independents believe in values and ideas—not political glad-handers and false marketing.

Actions speak louder than words. If the GOP can stop chasing superficial solutions to their youth image problem and focus on providing young voters with a credible alternative to the big-government Obama agenda, they may be able to avoid inspiring so many Buzzfeed “Top #GOPFail” countdowns.


Jackie Bodnar is the Communications Director for FreedomWorks, a grassroots service center to a community of over 4 million activists who believe in individual liberty and constitutionally-limited government. Follow her on Twitter at @JackieBodnar.
Do you like this post?

Showing 15 reactions

commented 2013-06-09 00:48:03 -0400 · Flag
Barbara, I actually agree with you to an extent. Where I disagree is that we think it’s beneath us…at least those of us here at SGP. You are absolutely right that more of us need to be writing about other things. Problem is that most media outlets love to identify those of us on the conservative side as the conservative chicks—therefore, attempting to discount anything we say before we utter a word. It’s rare to see the chick with a liberal slant to her writing identified as a liberal. That said, I’m proud to be identified as a conservative woman, so it doesn’t offend me when they do that…it just is what it is.
commented 2013-06-08 23:07:17 -0400 · Flag
I was a dyed in the wool feminist when I was younger. I read a steady diet of Glamour and Cosmo for human interest stories, office politics tips, and for relationship feedback. I became hooked on the politics I found sprinkled liberally throughout the pages. It seems like conservatives are so obsessed with persuasion, that they think it is beneath them to offer up non-political articles simply to entertain. Because of this attitude, they are missing out a tremendous opportunity to reach youth, particularly young women.
commented 2013-06-08 05:59:08 -0400 · Flag
One last post and I promise I will stop, I just happen to think this is EXTREMELY important to understand…in 1972 the highest voter turn out among the youth was recorded…it was 55.4% (This was after the 1971 ratification of the 26th amendment giving 18 year olds the right to vote and this was the end of Vietnam and Watergate for perspective) The next highest turn out was in 1992 with 52%, then in 2008 with 51.1% and in 2012, it was 50%. So, in the last 41 years the avg. turn out for youth has been roughly 47%. So, why does the GOP now think after 41 years that the problem with the youth not joining the GOP is that they haven’t convinced the 50% that historically stays home to vote? The percentage of ALL voters hasn’t been above 57% since 1968 when it was 60.8%. The youth vote made up approx. 18% of the total vote in 2012. Even if the highest percentage to ever vote (55.4%) had been duplicated AND we figure that all 5.4 % of those who came out to vote would have voted GOP…Obama would still have won the youth vote. THAT is the problem, the GOP is toxic to the youth because they (the youth) do not believe in the principles of conservatives as a whole…sure there are some good young conservatives but they are the minority. The avg. of ALL Voter participation since 1972 is only 53.2% so why would we expect the youth vote to exceed all voters? We wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Since 2000 the majority youth vote has gone for the Democrat in every election. Prior to this, in every election since 1972 they voted for the candidate that won the election…let that sink in for awhile.
commented 2013-06-08 00:17:01 -0400 · Flag
I want to add that I actually support what Jackie is saying in this article. Kids see right through—and I mean the kids who actually pay attention—the rhetoric and inaction of Republicans. They are unimpressed. As informed as I am, if I were a young person I’m not sure I would have been motivated in ‘12 to vote for anybody, not because of anything Romney was doing, but because of the rest of the party. I sure as heck wouldn’t have wanted to vote for Obama. All he did was complain about everything he created, only he refused to admit he was the culprit. I know a lot of kids who see through it. They’re disgusted with both sides, WANT to vote third party, but know it would be a wasted vote. Sadly, they stayed home along with their parents who refused to acknowledge that staying home was a vote for the reelection of Obama—a wasted vote. I think we need an “all of the above” approach (some great ideas below), and we need to start with taking back OUR party.
commented 2013-06-07 19:10:09 -0400 · Flag
commented 2013-06-07 16:24:31 -0400 · Flag
Given what I witnessed at my own GOP state convention just 3 weeks ago, the problem is exactly as expressed in this article. Our youth are looking for the actions to match the rhetoric and not getting it at any level.

The GOP needs to come to the realization that the way they have done things for the last 30 years is not working at all anymore. We must involve the youth in the process, listen to their ideas and concerns and then hold those in office accountable when their vote doesn’t match the rhetoric from the campaign trail.

The Democrats excel in not only listening to the youth, but in incorporating those thoughts and ideas into their platform. The put action to the promises they make our youth. It’s time for the GOP to wise up or it will dry up and wither away.
commented 2013-06-07 14:00:02 -0400 · Flag
Linda, I think the 50% that stayed home would stay home regardless because they are the ones you see on Jay Leno being asked, “Who is the current US President?” and you hear responses like, “I’m not sure.” or “Some old white guy.” or they are asked about the Affordable Care Act and have no idea what it is about, etc. My take was that the hope was the 50% who are actively voting could be persuaded to vote GOP if the party was more straight forward in their rhetoric versus their voting record. So 67% voted Dem while 33% voted GOP or other (of the 50% who voted)…so again, we need to ask why the majority of those who DID vote, decided to vote for Obama. The youth today seem to be saying it isn’t cool to be a Republican…even at the recent BlogCon this was a major topic! Reading the findings in the CRNC report showed overwhelmingly that todays youth hold a negative view of the GOP and in particular the platform of the GOP. We are going to waste a great deal of resources trying to motivate the remaining 50% of the youth vote who will be “low information voters” at best and given that Dems’ are winning the message war…they will end up only being motivated to vote against the Grand Ole Party rather than for it.
commented 2013-06-07 13:30:25 -0400 · Flag
Oh My Goodness! The Ronulans are on the loose again. I’d hoped that they had been vanquished.
commented 2013-06-07 13:14:30 -0400 · Flag
I tuned into CSPAN late one night because I saw “Coming up: Rand Paul” at the bottom of the screen. It turned out to be a GOP dinner in NH. Unfortunately, the group had also invited that little worm “Reince Priebus”, and he wasted way too much time talking about how we need longer political cycles and more campaign money, and we need be out there coercing young people to get onboard with the GOP agenda. It was disgusting. It turns out that this doofus is exactly what’s wrong with the GOP. In the few minutes left for Rand, he threw out some typical common sense admonishments and talked about budgets and freedom and individual sovereignty, and all the things that got him elected… Good for Rand. We don’t need more money, we need people like Ron Paul who can draw youth without feeling it necessary to “pay them to show up”. We need people like Rand who will stand up for their beliefs. We need people like Justin Amash who report their votes and their reasons on social media sites for their constituents to review. We certainly DO NOT NEED drones like Priebus!
commented 2013-06-07 13:04:34 -0400 · Flag
Is everyone missing the point? If 50% of the eligible voters sat out the election and 67% of those voting voted for Obama then only 33%of those eligible voted for Obama, which is about the average percentage of registered Democrats nationwide. The writer is correct, we would be better off figuring out how to motivate the 50% that were not inclined to vote at all.
commented 2013-06-07 04:09:45 -0400 · Flag
These are problems to be sure but the heinous voting record of the GOP does not answer why 67% of the youth voted for President Obama. See, looking on the other side of the coin…EVERY single Democrat voted for raising taxes, increasing the debt ceiling, and for unsustainable Federal spending. So, if the youth vote avoided voting for the GOP candidate because of the aforementioned voting records….then we should have found the majority (or 67%) voted for a third party candidate (most likely a libertarian)…but we didn’t…they voted in lock step with the Democrats. So, the problem is more likely due to perception in our youth about the direction our country and Government should take. Clearly, they (or the 67% who voted Democrat) believe we need more government and to follow the progressive direction of our current leadership. So, the GOP had better find a way to counter “that” ideology or we can kiss this country good-bye. I believe it has to do with messaging to some degree and right now Dem’s control that message and it’s screaming, “The Gov’t Owes YOU and the Gov’t will take care of You!” For what ever the reason, kids are embracing that point of view. The GOP had better find an antidote to this nonsense or I cannot see how we turn the youth vote around regardless of a more vigorous/honest conservative voting record for the GOP.
commented 2013-06-06 22:32:45 -0400 · Flag
Excellent points all, Jackie. Most of the young people I know are exactly what you describe…they see right through the RINO’s.
commented 2013-06-06 22:32:25 -0400 · Flag
Excellent post!! I’m so very tired of the “pass it to read it” mentality ~ even (and especially) among Republicans. We have great capacity to reach the “younglings” we just have to make sure we give them something to vote for! No more lesser of the 2 evils. We need more like Justin Amash. Many many more!
commented 2013-06-06 22:31:06 -0400 · Flag
Now if I could just convince the GOP in my state of this! Gonna share with everyone of the good ol boys down here.
commented 2013-06-06 22:17:12 -0400 · Flag
Great post. 2 points: Democrats kill many of their youth before birth. By contrast Republicans give birth to and protect ours, and adopt and care for many living unwanted youths. Be strong and proud, we are the party of life (when we subtract out the RINO’s).
Where politics and culture collide