The question that remains is how to take advantage.
President Obama is struggling to maintain the once-steadfast support of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 on a buffet of issues — health care, the budget, the economy and more — according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week. His overall approval rating among the group has sunk to a jarring 36 percent. But while the numbers bode ill for the Left, the GOP must still put in the legwork to reach the dissatisfied group and eliminate perceptions that have hampered Republicans in the past.
“There’s a golden opportunity right now for us as a party to reach out to these demographics, especially young people,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said at the Heritage Foundation’s “Conversations with Conservatives” Tuesday, adding that America’s young adults often identify as fiscally conservative when approached about the subject. “But they seem to think that we don’t care about them, and it goes back to the [problem] that it’s just because one party gives prettier speeches than we do that we tend to lose that demographic.”
One way to help wipe the impression of not ‘caring’ is to learn and understand the voting bloc’s particular concerns and incorporate them into the party platform, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. He drew upon some household experience in discussing Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) marathon filibuster over U.S. policy on drone strikes earlier this year, saying that his college-aged son texted him at the time, “Stand with Rand.”
There’s no doubt the speech “struck a nerve” with his son’s ilk, Jordan said.
“I do think there is a huge opportunity for our party, for conservatives to reach out to younger Americans, and particularly on the liberty issues, the Bill of Rights issues, the freedom issues, just like Sen. Paul was doing that very day,” Jordan stated. “And we can do that in a way that doesn’t take anything away from what our party is about — strong defense, lower taxes, less spending, traditional values.”
Direct engagement is another crucial prong of capitalizing on young Americans’ dissatisfaction with the president, Labrador and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said. Both were part of a panel of four Republicans that addressed the Young Americans for Liberty Conference in August, an experience that Labrador described as one of the most enjoyable he’s had in Congress.
“We were cracking jokes, we were having a good time, and we were talking about really important issues that matter to them,” Labrador said. “And they were very excited to hear from four older guys about these issues.”
Massie, who said he emerged victorious in a seven-way Republican primary in 2012 largely because of youth outreach, added that he spoke to a group of around 150 college students in Arlington, Va., Monday evening.
“They were engaged. They were listening,” he said.
It’s key for Republicans that they continue to do so.
Young voters proved decisive in the last two presidential elections. President Obama netted a 60 percent share of those under the age of 30 in 2012, according to exit polls — and that was a decrease from 2008, when the figure was an extraordinary 66 percent. Not even Ronald Reagan, the last presidential nominee to come close to dominating the demographic so thoroughly, could match those numbers. So pivotal was the president’s command of the youth vote that had 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney put up an even fight for the group in the states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, there’d be a different occupant of the Oval Office today.
“In those states, if Governor Romney had won half of the youth vote, or if young voters had stayed home entirely, then Romney would have won instead of Obama,” a report from The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement stated.
Though the GOP can’t undo the past, it has an opening for the future as young Americans sour on the president — and perhaps just as importantly, his policies, since his name won’t appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016. The Quinnipiac poll showed that young Americans now disapprove of Obamacare by a 51-42 margin, right at the time that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has said that the GOP will tie the law to Democrats in the coming election.
“We will tattoo it to their forehead in 2014. We will run on it. And they will lose because of it,” Priebus said on CNN’s “State of the Union” this month.
In-line with Jordan’s assessment that Republicans can widen their appeal to young voters by taking the discussion beyond just Obamacare and other core issues, the GOP is amassing a platform with which to approach the group: disaffection with the president and the prominent issues that his party owns, and an additional slate of privacy and individual rights issues of particular importance to the youth demographic.
And according to Labrador, it’s critical that Republicans begin making their case to those people well in advance of Election Day.
“We need to stop going to these groups two weeks before the election. We need to start going right now.”