To Win Millennials' Vote, the GOP Needs to Make Politics Personal
As the Republican National Committee gears up to begin its 2013 session, “Making It Happen,” on Wednesday in Boston, the question receiving the greatest attention is whether the RNC will accept Chairman Reince Priebus’ proposal to boycott the presidential primary debates sponsored by CNN and NBC because of those networks’ slated programs on Hilary Clinton. While focusing on such pressing issues like network bias (has the RNC watched an episode of Glee lately?), the RNC has missed the opportunity to talk about an issue that ought to be of far greater concern: gaining the millennial vote.
This past June, the College Republican National Committee released a damning report on how millennial voters view the Republican Party. The short answer provided by the 95-page report, based on two separate surveys and a series of successive focus groups, is that young voters view the GOP as “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.” With branding such as that, is it any surprise that five million more millennials voted for President Barack Obama than for Gov. Mitt Romney? While it may seem easy to write this group off, the GOP cannot assume that this generation, in which 56.4% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 lack a full time job, will suddenly become fiscally successful individuals who make up the core of the GOP. If the GOP hopes to enlist the support of these voters, the party needs to take them seriously.
The report considers three reasons why Republicans lost the millennial vote in the 2012 election: the “technology camp,” the “policy camp,” and the “brand camp.” The GOP’s particular trouble connecting with young voters can be generalized as follows: To positively rebrand themselves, Republicans must present a narrative that allows these voters to participate as integral members of the party. This means both shifting rhetoric to demonstrate the relevance of conservative policies in the lives of millennials, and employing a social media outreach platform that allows the individual voter to present these views as their own. In order to reach millennials, the GOP needs to make things personal.
Social media, as the report indicates, plays an essential role in the lives of young millennials. Mastery of this medium, however, requires more than setting up a page for users to like. Millennials use Facebook as a means of communication and discussion. What will reach them is providing content and resources that the user can lay claim to as a digital sign of their own thoughts. The “binders full of women” statement by Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election was unfortunate, but it also struck those with a visual imagination as quite amusing. When such individuals took to the internet, creating a series of memes employing everything “The Most Interesting Man in the World” to “Hey Girl,” everyone became a comedian. Online content thus becomes seemingly interactive through the phenomenon of viralization, where users can lay claim to the content through the act of reposting. It is far easier to consider a position on gun control without feeling manipulated when it comes from your college roommate rather than when it comes directly from the news.
Because such personalization is essential to how millennials interact with information, and the platforms exist to allow it to be widely disseminated, it is vital that the GOP present conservative positions with a branding that the young voter finds relevant. As the focus groups in the study note, “candidates need to be able to show that they understand the problems young people face.” Rather than focus on corporate tax breaks, which many millennials see as detrimental to the job market, refocusing on how Republican economic policies benefit small business, which millennials tend to view as aiding their ability to find employment, personalizes the narrative. Millennials are far more likely to engage and embrace a party that sees them not as fodder for votes, but as respected individuals whose futures are important.
If the GOP continues to ignore millennials and refuses to reframe its political narrative to make conservatism relevant to younger voters, ultimately there will no longer be a GOP. A key critique leveled against millennials is their obsession with the now that leads to a lack of foresight. Perhaps, the venerable and established adults of the Republican Party ought to pay heed to their own critique.