How to Appeal to Young Voters

Smart arguments about flexible free-market solutions to our biggest challenges are the way to attract independent-minded young people to the GOP.

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It's time for the GOP to make itself the party of ideas again, especially when dealing with young people.

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These days, we need a strong and loyal opposition party, and that's not how the Republican Party is presenting itself. My advice: Forget about going after President Obama. Obama fatigue is very real, even among his own supporters. People increasingly think he's irrelevant and have tuned him out, so the GOP should as well. If the only thing Republicans do for the next three years is talk about Barack Obama, then it's going to be a very long three years.

Instead, the GOP should be talking to the independent voters it needs to build a governing majority in the next decade. In its most recent polling on Americans' political beliefs, the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of independent voters is the highest it's been in 70 years and now comprises a plurality of the electorate. Persuading independents to vote Republican doesn't mean the GOP should abandon its conservative principles and become more liberal. In fact, while party identification is down for both Republicans and Democrats, fully 73 percent of Americans identify themselves as moderate or conservative; only 22 percent call themselves liberal. We are still a center-right nation.

But here's the problem for Republicans: Only 18 percent of millennials call themselves members of the GOP; more millennials are Democrats (31 percent); the most (45 percent) are Independents. When I teach college classes, I find that very few college students will admit in public to being Republican – why should they? However, when I say that I am a limited-government, fiscal conservative, in favor of a strong defense, who accepts same-sex civil unions and is pro-life with an exception for rape, incest and life of the mother, most nod in agreement. "That's how we feel too!" they say. They may agree with conservative principles, but they don't want the party label.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Here's how to fix that: It's time for the GOP to make itself the party of ideas again, especially when dealing with young people. There's a real opportunity for making a fact-based case for flexible, free-market, limited-government solutions to challenges important to the next generation. Let's hear about a Republican alternative to Obamacare, about urban enterprise zones, a new tax code, school choice and reforming Medicare and Social Security. Young people can handle it.

From what I've seen, the political world isn't treating younger voters with the respect they deserve – especially given that they are the largest cohort size in history, according to the Census Bureau, with 80 million-plus members born between 1980 and 1999.

For example, if you're my age you may not have seen the latest ads both for and against Obamacare targeting millennials, but they're a good example of what not to do. Generation Opportunity, which wants young people to opt out of Obamacare, uses a two-pronged approach: free pizza at college football tailgate parties and an ad campaign called "Creepy Uncle Sam." In the ad, a young woman in a hospital gown goes for her yearly OB-GYN exam, explains that she has Obamacare, and gets in the stirrups to await the doctor. In the doctor's place, a truly creepy Uncle Sam pops up in the exam room – looking a lot like the old Burger King mascot in a leotard with a ridiculously huge head. Remember that guy? Not exactly a data-driven argument for opting out.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Worse, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative working with ProgressNow Colorado has launched a social media initiative aimed at getting millennial women to opt in, modeled after the "Got Milk?" campaign. One shows a young woman holding birth control pills standing beside a cardboard cutout of hottie actor Ryan Gosling. "Got Insurance?" it reads, then this, inexplicably from the cutout: "Hey girl, You're excited about easy access to birth control and I'm excited about getting to know you. She got insurance. Now you can too. Thanks Obamacare!" Another shows a young woman with pills alongside a smarmy-looking guy ("Susie and Nate, hot to trot") with this ad copy: "Let's Get Physical. OMG, he's hot! Let's hope he's as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers. ... thanks Obamacare!" I am not making this up. As Seinfeld would say, who was the marketing genius who came up with that one?